The latest addition to my website is Elena Ferrante‘s Storia del nuovo cognome (The Story of a New Name), the second in her L’amica geniale (My Brilliant Friend) series. This novel starts exactly where the last one ended, at the marriage between Stefano and Lila, with Lila incandescent with rage at seeing the shoes she designed and then made with her brother, on the feet of the hated Marcello Solara, instead of on her husband’s. Though she later calms down, this sets the tone for the marriage and, indeed, the rest of the book, as the marriage both begins and ends during the course of this book. Lila is a fiercely independent young woman (she is only just seventeen when she marries) and is not going to tolerate any opposition to her point of view. The second major conflict occurs on the wedding night, when she refuses Stefano sex and he beats and rapes her. Most people seem to think that he was justified. The conflict between Stefano and Lila, which worsens throughout the book, is just one of the many conflicts and fights during this book. Indeed, it is fair to say that this book is a soap opera of an extended dysfunctional family, with no-one coming out of it happy or even vaguely content.
In a previous blog post, I I commented on the success of Karl Ove Knausgård and was somewhat mystified by it. While I think Ferrante is by far the better writer, and that she has a far more interesting story to tell, I still do not fully concur with the general view that her books are of unsurpassed brilliance. I still prefer imaginative fiction to autobiographical fiction and, while I certainly enjoyed this book, it certainly will not feature on my all-time great novels lists or even my all-time great Italian novels list. This is undoubtedly a weakness on my part but one I certainly will not apologise for it. As I said in the Knausgård post mentioned above, give me real fiction any time.