Sketching the cover of the book you are currently reading was on the list of suggestions that our sketch tutor gave us, to keep students busy while in lockdown for a month. It’s been a great motivator, and occupation, while (mostly) confined to our homes.
I have just finished reading Book Three in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series. It is the continuation of Lenù’s story, which moves from her adolescence and finishes in her thirties. It is not just the story, but the writing, which grips me as Ferrante moves from describing the intimate complexities of the small Naples town to Milan and further, where Lenù (called Elena), attempts to reconcile her past with the person she now is – a ‘respectable’ married woman. She has married an academic; an equal, or so she thought, but soon feels her former intelligent self to be subsumed within the new roles of wife and mother.
Ferrante’s writing is so dynamic and compelling that the vacillations of Elena’s self-analysis, which could annoy, soon fade as we are thrust into other settings – revolt, killings, political oratory, the emergence of feminism, love and distrust. We also continue to follow the lives of the characters we met in Book One; the old friends, arch enemies, neighbours in her old hometown, that Lenù knew and had loved. Lia is still part of Elena’s life, but the friendship strains as their lives pull apart, change shape, and are reconfigured in a strange mirroring of each other’s former plight. And as much as Lenù wishes to distance herself from Lila, events prevent this from happening.
Let me include a few lines of evocative description, where Lenù writes about Lila: ‘The more I tried to draw her into the open and involve her in my desire to clarify, the more she took refuge in the shadows. She was like the full moon when it crouches behind the forest and the branches scribble on its face.’ (p. 310).
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante: published by The Text Publishing Company, Australia 2015.
If you haven’t read the four books from Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, I suggest you do. I’m currently reading book number four, the last in the series.