I have just finished the last of Ferrante’s Neapolitan books, and this was the perfect thing to read next. Her fans will find a lot to enjoy in something that offers thought-provoking ideas on every page.
Whichever camp you are in on the identity issue – and I’m in the “I don’t care who she really is so long as I can read her books” camp – this offers a great deal of interest.
Best known for the Neapolitan Quartet, an international bestseller that started with My Brilliant Friend, Ferrante has become a literary powerhouse.
This book explores her letters, answers to readers’ questions and a selection of interviews (usually conducted by email).
Her serious commitment to her writing and the stories she tells is revealed on every page. She answers at great depth – one set of answers to five questions goes on for 60 pages, with tangents, memories, inspirations and lines of thought all carefully constructed into one coherent and thorough response.
At times, the series of interviews threatened to become tedious, with very similar questions (especially about her identity) asked repeatedly. But she kept answering, often including something new to keep it fresh.
I’m not sure such a book would have been published without the worldwide interest in who she really is, but her fans should be grateful: it is a highly readable resource that is both powerful and insightful.
My copy is absolutely littered with markers for things I want to go back to – insights about writing, about her characters, about life. I can’t remember the last time I did that to any book, but she said so much that I wanted to think about, at length.
The first section dealt largely with her first couple of books, written before her Neapolitan series. My interest in this was a little patchy, as it contained a lot of fine detail on books I haven’t yet read.
My main frustration with the book was the way that the description of what a section was about didn’t come until the end that section. For example, in that 60-page answer to a set of questions I mention above, the actual questions and the source of them don’t appear come until after her answer. I wondered if it had something to do with Ferrante’s obsession with letting the text speak for itself, but I found it annoying, and it happened repeatedly.
Thus book was published in October 2016. My review is a slightly expanded version of a piece written for the Herald Sun’s Weekend magazine.