I gobbled up the four books almost one after the other, turning pages with impatience of a reader, deeply invested in the story. The books are terribly translated from Italian with the clumsy, sometimes incomprehensible words irritating the reader, particularly partial to the mastery of the language. The drama of the narrative is subtle although a few events made me bolt up from my seat from the sheer unexpectedness. And yet despite the poor language and the fairly uneventful plot, Elena Ferrante has captured my attention unlike anyone I had recently read. It's because her main characters, Lila and Lenu, especially Lenu, who tells the story, were so raw and honest in their thoughts and emotions.
Elena Ferrante, unusual in this day and age, had decided she wanted none of the publicity which comes with becoming a published author - her books appeared under a pseudonym. Perhaps it's what had allowed her to be so candid in describing female insecurity, envy, jealousy, shame, sexual pleasure and the whole kaleidoscope of vivid and complicated human emotions. Her mothers aren't perfect, they feel terribly guilty about their lack of aptitude in bringing up children. Lovers disappoint in banal ways. Studious girls take time to realise their own worth. Mother-daughter relationships are difficult. Anxiety, depression and grief frequently take central stage (but the novels aren't dark or depressing, just honest).
I found myself completely taken by the Neopolitan Novels because, as I had realised, honesty is such a scarce commodity in print. Books and especially newspapers, which are meant to be objective, have long relegated honesty to the bottom of the league of priorities. Facts and experts are apparently overvalued, especially in online media, where the so-called clickbaits rule. There is a view that fiction is something we read to escape the reality but actually, at least subconsciously, we are constantly looking for people, things and emotions we can relate to. It's these books that truly engage us and stay with us for days or even years afterwards. It was refreshing for me to read something so unashamedly bare, that Lenu's turmoils turned from escape into alleviating some weight, which had been pressing down on my chest.
We live in thrilling and simultaneously terrifying times, whether you are British, American, French or Russian; whether you avoid the social media or depend on it. We have access to more information than ever before, yet it is fiendishly difficult to make head or tail of what we are consuming via radio, television, newspapers and Facebook. Many politicians, business leaders, media outlets and even experts (remember being told to eat "low fat" or that eating eggs causes high cholesterol?) have used up all our trust, making it exhausting to try to decipher fact from fiction. A little more honesty in politics, business, parenting and relationships might just alleviate some future crises. Consider a politician saying "I don't know" rather than telling a lie: it may result in a public ridicule, but it may also help to avert a disaster. And if you are tired of all the media bombarding you with lies, get an honest book of fiction for your holiday. It will do you good.
Honest books I recommend:
Elena Ferrante My Brilliant Friend etc.
Svetlana Alexievich Second-Hand Time
Alain de Botton The Course of Love
Richard Flanagan The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Lionel Shriver Big Brother