Written by Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein
Audiobook read by Hillary Huber
Published by Europa Editions on September 2nd 2014
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Source: public library via Overdrive
The incredible story continues in book three of the critically acclaimed Neapolitan Novels!
Since the publication of My Brilliant Friend, the first of the Neapolitan novels, Elena Ferrante’s fame as one of our most compelling, insightful, and stylish contemporary authors has grown enormously. She has gained admirers among authors—Jhumpa Lahiri, Elizabeth Strout, Claire Messud, to name a few—and critics—James Wood, John Freeman, Eugenia Williamson, for example. But her most resounding success has undoubtedly been with readers, who have discovered in Ferrante a writer who speaks with great power and beauty of the mysteries of belonging, human relationships, love, family, and friendship. In this third Neapolitan novel, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her husband and the comforts her marriage brought and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which has opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons. Both women have attempted are pushing against the walls of a prison that would have seen them living a life of misery, ignorance and submission. They are afloat on the great sea of opportunities that opened up during the nineteen-seventies. Yet they are still very much bound to each other by a strong, unbreakable bond.
Elena Ferrante Stays in Naples and Goes to Florence
- What’s it about? In Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante continues the stories of Elena Greco and Raffaella (Lila) Cerullo into the 1970s. Lifelong friends–and sometimes frenemies–from a rough neighborhood in Naples, they’ve now gone different ways. Elena obtained a university education, published a novel, and started a life in Florence as the wife of a professor and mother of two daughters. Lila remained in Naples, raising her son and accompanying her partner Enzo into the emerging computer industry. Italy is experiencing one political crisis after another; cultural and moral norms are shifting, and everyday violence is spreading. Through everything, however, Elena and Lila maintain their connection to and their influence on each other.
- Why did I read it? Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels are my unofficial Summer Reading Project, and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is the third of the four books in the series. They are thoroughly addictive reading–vivid, detailed, immersive and provocative. After reading the first two books, My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name, in audiobook earlier this summer, I started this one in print. When my hold on the audio version came in at the library, I switched over to that at Chapter 60.
I Won’t Leave, I’ll Stay
- What worked for me? I may have mentioned that these novels are addictive. The characters and the writing will suck you in.
Elena–who left–continues as narrator in Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. Lila stayed. The geographical separation and reduced roles in each other’s day-to-day lives make this installment feel more fully Elena’s.
This is less a “Neapolitan” novel than an “Italian” one–the scope is broader, reflecting Elena’s enlarged worldview.
I was glad I got the audiobook for the second half of the novel since I was hearing Hillary Huber’s voice in my head with the print version anyway.
- What didn’t I like? Regarding Lila’s more limited presence here, I agree with this review from the Los Angeles Times:
If the novel has a shortcoming, it’s with Lila. Elena writes of her friend that “she was like the full moon when it crouches behind a forest and the branches scribble on its face.” But in this installment she is more a branch, brittle and subject to snapping in the wind. Her power and beauty and intelligence are only shadows, even while she remains the novel’s conscience.
These novels are usually described as the story of a female friendship, but Elena and Lila’s bond is complicated. While reading Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, I often questioned whether they even liked each other.
Ferrante’s depiction of Elena’s marriage is uncomfortably true to life, and View Spoiler »I was not surprised by its eventual collapse. However, I was disappointed that it was precipitated by the return of Nino Sarratorre. « Hide Spoiler
- Recommended? Very much so! Since these books aren’t plot-driven, I’m not sure you need to read them in order. But if you don’t, I predict you’ll go back to the two preceding novels after reading Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.