Unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclines towards obscurity, not clarity. I thought: now that Lila has let herself be seen so plainly, I must resign myself to not seeing her anymore. Elena FerranteSpent yesterday afternoon in the cafe pavilion at my local park enjoying the last of the summer sunshine and re-reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. I’m re-reading the first volume of the Neapolitan series because I’ve just finished the newly published fourth volume The Story of the Lost Child and fallen in love with it all over again - the sea, the stradone, the island of Ischia, the siren call of Naples and the brooding shadow of Vesuvius.
The Story of the Lost Child covers the late seventies and early eighties. Elena and Lila are now in their mid-thirties and resume an uneasy friendship. Elena has had considerable success with her writing career and left her husband for her lover, Nino, causing her mother-in-law who is highly influential in publishing circles to ostracize her and her mother to react with her usual fury. Lila is having considerable success in business in the early days computing and has regained some power and status in Naples.
The writing is intense and relentless. I found myself routing for Elena when she stands up to her mother-in-law while simultaneously condemning her for putting her lover before her daughters. Lila remains enigmatic and Elena always has the feeling that she is one step ahead of her. Both women become pregnant and there is a traumatic incident where Vesuvius erupts which triggers a nervous breakdown in Lila. The volcano seems to serve as a metaphor for Lila’s mental health. Bringing their daughters up together and sharing their care the two friends become close again until the traumatic event at the heart of the novel which changes everything and the quatrain ends as it started with the disappearance of Lila.
Have you caught Ferrante fever yet?