by Elena Ferrante
Translated by: Ann Goldstein
Read by: Hillary Huber
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a few mild swear words and some frank talk about not-quite sex. It’s incredibly slow with a lot of narration rather than dialogue, but I’d give it to a high schooler who was interested in historical fiction. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.
I picked this one up because I’ve heard good things about Ferrante from our translation book club (they only read works in translation), and because I needed a book in translation for my bingo card. (Which I’m going to end up being three squares short from getting a blackout. I read a lot.) I didn’t know much about it, going in, so I didn’t think I had any expectations. (I did however, expect to really enjoy the narrator, which I did.)
What it turned out to be was a very slow, intricate, detailed portrait of a girl, Elena, in a neighborhood in Naples, Italy, and her (somewhat obsessive) relationship with her best friend, Lila. This first book is a lot of set up: their lives — Lila is the daughter of a shoe repairman; Elena the daughter of a porter, whose mother has a wandering eye and limp and is cruel — and their relationship — mostly competitive, mostly on the side of Elena — to each other. They meet in elementary school, where Lina is the smartest and the best. But because she is poorer than Elena and because her parents won’t be bullied by the teacher (there was a lot of bullying by people in this), Lina drops out of school while Elena continues.
And yet, everything Elena does is because she wants to seem important to Lina. She wants Lina to look at her and feel like she Needs Elena in her life. And yet, for the most part, she doesn’t.
I’m still not sure how I feel about this one. On the one hand, I adored Huber’s narration, the way she embodied the characters (and how effortlessly the Italian names and places came off her tongue). She really is a talented reader, and I love listening to her. But, I’m not sure I figured out what was so great about the novel. I was interested enough to keep reading; the character’s lives were intriguing and, yeah, I guess I did want to hear what Elena and Lina would do next. But, in the end, I don’t know if I cared. I finished the book and kind of went, “Huh.” Maybe it’s because I don’t read a lot of books like this (both translated as well as adult fiction), but it just kind of washed over me.
Not that it was bad. It just wasn’t something I was terribly enthusiastic about.