A woman in her sixties, at home in Naples, receives a call from the middle-aged son of her best friend. His mother is missing. She has disappeared, cutting her image out of photos and removing all her belongings. Her lifelong friend is not surprised, noting it has been thirty years since her friend – referred to as being an electronics wizard during the 1960s – first told her of her wish to disappear. This beginning of the first of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend, grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go.
I decided to read the quartet because we couldn’t keep them in the shop. We’d order, they’d sell out. People had heard about them from friends, or been lent the first book and then been unable to wait to borrow the second, and then the third (The Story of a New Name, followed by Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay).
Now I’m about to read the fourth and final book, The Story of the Lost Child. After the opening disappearance, we see the post-war childhood beginning of the difficult and complex friendship between the two women, Elena and Lila, in a poor area of Naples. What difference does an education make to a woman’s life? Marriage? Children? Violence? Money? Family? Wartime shadows? The novels give us a lifetime up close, but so convincingly that I am desperate to find out how all the stories end. And not much else will get done till I’m finished.
Review by Bethan