The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
In the spring of 1966, Lila, in a state of great agitation, entrusted to me a metal box that contained eight notebooks. She said that she could no longer keep them at home, she was afraid her husband might read them. I carried off the box without comment, apart from some ironic allusions to the excessive amount of string she had tied around it. At that time our relationship was terrible, but it seemed that only I considered it that way. The rare times we saw each other, she showed no embarrassment, only affection; a hostile word never slipped out.
When she asked me to swear that I wouldn't open the box for any reason, I swore. But as soon as I was on the train I untied the string, took out the notebooks, began to read. It wasn't a diary, although there were detailed accounts of the events of her life, starting with the end of elementary school. Rather, it seemed evidence of a stubborn self-discipline in writing...
The Story of a New Name is the second book in Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan Quartet. Am I surprised that I decided to read it? Yes I am. Am I shocked that I finished it? Yes I am. Have I gone on to start listening to the third book in the quartet? Yep. This book was narrated by Hillary Huber and she's very good with the narration. My husband asked me what I was listening to and I told him it was an 'Italian soap opera' - sort of. And this long and epic tale is kind of like that - All My Children in Italy of the 50's, 60's, 70's and beyond. So many characters, central of which are Lila and Elena, the two friends from 'the neighborhood' and their intertwined relationship over decades. It tells of women's roles at that time, of poverty, of a desire to better oneself, of families, of people who had so little and, of course, there is drama. Lots of drama. These books remind me a bit of the long, long epics that were popular in the '70's and '80's. I read a lot of those. Books by James Michener and John Jakes, Susan Howatch, Herman Wouk, and James Clavell. Perhaps that's why these are speaking to me. In any case, I now need to know how the story plays out. I'm in it until the end.
**Update - I did finish listening to the 3rd and 4th books in the quartet. Whew! What a long story. Lots of drama, as I said above. It didn't really end with a bang, but I was happy enough with the ending. I'm not going to do separate posts for those, but if you'd like to check them out, they are Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (3rd) and The Story of the Lost Child (4th). Now I need to get back to my normal mystery novels. Give me some crimes to solve, please.
In The Story of a New Name, Lila has recently married and made her enterée into the family business; Elena, meanwhile, continues her studies and her exploration of the world beyond the neighborhood that she so often finds stifling. Love, jealousy, family, freedom, commitment, and above all friendship: these are signs under which both women live out this phase in their stories. Marriage appears to have imprisoned Lila, and the pressure to excel is at times too much for Elena. Yet the two young women share a complex and evolving bond that is central to their emotional lives and is a source of strength in the face of life's challenges. In these Neapolitan Novels, Elena Ferrante, gives readers a poignant and universal story about friendship and belonging.