I’m ending #WIT month where I began it – with Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. A warning before I begin my review, though. If you haven’t read My Brilliant Friend (click on the title for my review), there will be spoilers of that book in this review. You don’t need to have read the first novel to understand and enjoy the second but I would recommend it merely because it’s so good.
The Story of a New Name doesn’t quite begin where My Brilliant Friend left off. Instead it begins slightly in the future when Lila has entrusted Elena with a metal box containing eight notebooks.
At that time our relationship was terrible, but it seemed that only I considered it that way. The rare times we saw each other, she showed no embarrassment, only affection; a hostile world never slipped out.
Of course, Lila’s made Elena swear she won’t open the box and of course, Elena does, eventually, and this one of the ways in which Elena fills the gaps in the narrative when her and Lila don’t see each other; growing apart is one of the key themes of this volume.
It’s chapter two then before we return to the shoes that feature so heavily in My Brilliant Friend and discover that they’re on Marcello’s feet because Stefano has given them to him.
…no one except me seemed to realise that the marriage that had just been celebrated – and that would probably last until the death of the spouses, among the births of many children, many more grandchildren, joys and sorrows, silver and gold wedding anniversaries – that for Lila, no matter what her husband did in his attempt to be forgiven, that marriage was already over.
Elena then reads Lila’s behaviour – as she continues the celebrations and behaves like a dutiful wife – to mean that she loves Stefano more than Elena can understand. The only thing she can compare it with is her love for books and that’s another key theme of this volume. While Lila begins to realise what it means to be married, Elena stops going to school and then returns, spurred on by Lila to achieve the highest results in the class.
Amongst all this, the violence of My Brilliant Friend remains although in a different form – it is no longer the Carracci’s versus the Solaras, they have an uneasy business driven truce to maintain, instead it is domestic violence, the violence Stefano inflicts on Lila and, to a lesser extent, Antonio on Elena.
When Lila returns to the neighbourhood following her honeymoon with Stefano, the families gather to celebrate:
Lila remained standing most of the time, it hurt to sit down. No one, not even her mother, who was silent during the entire visit seemed to notice her swollen, black right eye, the cut on her lower lip, the bruises on her arms.
The Story of a New Name continues some of the themes from the first volume , expanding on ideas of poverty and politics, but it also explores what happens to a friendship when you begin to grow apart, when one marries and the other studies. It also considers the balance of power in a close friendship – who really has it and whether you can ever really read the other person and understand where you fit alongside them. As Lila’s mother says:
“For your whole life you love people and you never really know who they are.”
Thanks to Europa Editions for the review copy.