Series: The Neapolitan Novels,
Written by Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein
Audiobook read by Hillary Huber
Published by Europa Editions on September 1st 2015
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Source: public library via Overdrive
Here is the dazzling saga of two women, the brilliant, bookish Elena and the fiery, uncontainable Lila. Both are now adults; life’s great discoveries have been made, its vagaries and losses have been suffered. Through it all, the women’s friendship has remained the gravitational center of their lives.
Both women once fought to escape the neighborhood in which they grew up—a prison of conformity, violence, and inviolable taboos. Elena married, moved to Florence, started a family, and published several well-received books. In this final book, she has returned to Naples. Lila, on the other hand, never succeeded in freeing herself from the city of her birth. She has become a successful entrepreneur, but her success draws her into closer proximity with the nepotism, chauvinism, and criminal violence that infect her neighborhood. Proximity to the world she has always rejected only brings her role as its unacknowledged leader into relief. For Lila is unstoppable, unmanageable, unforgettable!
Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous and a world undergoing epochal change, the story of a lifelong friendship is told with unmatched honesty and brilliance. The four volumes in this series constitute a long remarkable story that readers will return to again and again, and every return will bring with it new revelations.
The Story of the End of the Story
The Story of the Lost Child, published in 2015, is the last of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. It’s the last installment of a story that spans nearly 1500 pages, four books, and sixty years. And as it ends, it returns to the beginning. The third book, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, has the widest scope of the series. The Story of the Lost Child has a more narrow focus.
Elena returns to Naples after leaving her husband for the man she’s loved since girlhood. This brings her back into Lila’s orbit and shifts their complicated friendship once again. They get pregnant within a few weeks of each other and both give birth to daughters. At Lila’s urging, Elena eventually succumbs to the pull of the old neighborhood. She and her children rent a flat in Lila’s building, and the move unexpectedly re-energizes Elena’s writing career. Meanwhile, Lila’s computer business grows with the technology boom of the 1980s and ’90s.
All of Ferrante’s novels contain some incident that directly references their titles. When that incident occurs in The Story of the Lost Child, it’s the “everything falls apart” moment.
An Italian Epic
Each of these novels picks up where the last one ended and I read them back to back. As a result, I’m a little fuzzy now about which exactly where in the larger story some events occur. However, I remember how My Brilliant Friend begins. Many thousands of words later, I was glad that Ferrante brought me back to that same spot.
I read almost all of the series in audiobook, Although I started the third book in print out of impatience, I switched to audio when my library hold came in. Hillary Huber was an outstanding narrator for all four books.
The Neapolitan Novels were my unofficial Summer Reading Project of 2016, and I’m glad I didn’t start the series until it was finished. I absolutely believe these books should be read straight through, one after the other. Ferrante is telling a single story across all four volumes, This account of two girls from a rough neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples is epic. It’s gritty, provocative, aggravating, and intimately scaled…and yet, it’s a saga. I’m not sure I’ve read anything quite like it before, and I can’t wait to read it again. And when I do, even if it’s in print, I’ll probably hear Hillary Huber’s voice.
From October 1976 until 1979, when I returned to Naples to live, I avoided resuming a steady relationship with Lila. But it wasn’t easy. She almost immediately tried to reenter my life by force, and I ignored her, tolerated her, endured her. Even if she acted as if there were nothing she wanted more than to be close to me at a difficult moment, I couldn’t forget the contempt with which she had treated me.Today I think that if it had been only the insult that wounded me – You’re an idiot, she had shouted on the telephone when I told her about Nino, and she had never, ever spoken to me like that before – I would have soon calmed down. In reality, what mattered more than that offense was the mention of Dede and Elsa. Think of the harm you’re doing to your daughters, she had warned me, and at the moment I had paid no attention. But over time those words acquired greater weight, and I returned to them often. Lila had never displayed the slightest interest in Dede and Elsa; almost certainly she didn’t even remember their names. If, on the phone, I mentioned some intelligent remark they had made, she cut me off, changed the subject. And when she met them for the first time, at the house of Marcello Solara, she had confined herself to an absentminded glance and a few pat phrases – she hadn’t paid the least attention to how nicely they were dressed, how neatly their hair was combed, how well both were able to express themselves, although they were still small. And yet I had given birth to them, I had brought them up, they were part of me, who had been her friend forever: she should have taken this into account – I won’t say out of affection but at least out of politeness – for my maternal pride. Yet she hadn’t even attempted a little good-natured sarcasm; she had displayed indifference and nothing more. Only now – out of jealousy, surely, because I had taken Nino – did she remember the girls, and wanted to emphasize that I was a terrible mother, that although I was happy, I was causing them unhappiness. The minute I thought about it I became anxious. Had Lila worried about Gennaro when she left Stefano, when she abandoned the child to the neighbor because of her work in the factory, when she sent him to me as if to get him out of the way? Ah, I had my faults, but I was certainly more a mother than she was.