A note on Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet

by Chris Bertram on January 18, 2016

I finished Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet yesterday. I know there’s been a lot of hype about these novels, but it is entirely justified. Actually, I write “these novels” but this is actually just one long novel, distributed across four printed volumes. For those who don’t know, it concerns the relationship between two women, Elena (or Lenu or Lenuccia) – the narrator – and Lila (or Lina) from childhood to early old age, and their mutual relationship to “the neighbourhood”, a working-class district of Naples and the many other families who live there. It is a difficult friendship, infected with rivalry, jealousy and resentment from the start. Lila is both intelligent and impulsive, spiky and demanding, capable of both extraordinary determination and of self-neglect and remains forever tied to the district; Lenu eventually enjoys worldly success and social evelation, but, in her own mind, is forever in the shadow of her “brilliant friend”.

In its historical span, from the 1950s to the 2000s, the novel takes in contemporary Italian history from the time when Christian Democrats and Communists dominate the political scene, through years of political radicalism and then violence and onto corruption and decay. Except the corruption and decay are always there in the neighbourhood, personified by the Solaras, the local representatives of the Camorra, with whom everyone must deal in some way or other.

It is a novel about women, about what women want and don’t want from men, and about extraordinary violence and the threat thereof. Men come off badly, they are fickle, selfish, violent, unreliable. In the neighbourhood, among the men, only the Communists are sufficiently restrained by their political education to treat women with a minimum of respect.

It is a novel about class and its injuries, the sense that smart working-class women have of being excluded by invisible social barriers; the attitudes of the wealthy intellectual left, happy to patronise the workers (thought understanding little) but always being clear about their own superiority.

It is a novel about hierarchies: about the local hierarchies that matter enormously to some (those who stay) and how those become less relevant to those who attach themselves to other scales of value (literary, intellectual). And it is a novel about place: about Naples, yes, but in essence about any poor working-class district or estate and the possibility of leaving it through education but of that education making identity problematic.

I think I’ve managed to write all that without giving up any significant plot details. I’d like to see a film made, but one not set in Naples but somewhere else. Perhaps Liverpool or Baltimore, somewhere else with poverty, class, crime and community. Maybe race could be a part of such a film. I’d like that because it would make clear how much is universal in this book rather than being tied to Italy alone. Read it.



novakant 01.18.16 at 8:28 am

Thanks, I’m looking forward to reading Ferrante once I’ve finished Knausgaard … :)


Ronan(rf) 01.18.16 at 9:01 am

I’ve had aspirations to read her for a while, so will have to get around to it. Somewhat relatedly, though more a memoir and possibly more sympathetic to the men, jesmyn wards “the men we reaped” is worth reading imo


Phil 01.18.16 at 9:18 am

Joanna Biggs’s LRB review of the fourth book made it sound like a life-event of a book – the kind of book that drags you in and keeps you there until you’ve finished it, real life be damned. (Ferrante’s writing seems to say something that hasn’t been said before – it isn’t easy to specify what this is – in a way so compelling its readers forget where they are, abandon friends and disdain sleep. ) I haven’t read any of them – probably should, given my interest in the setting – but I got the OH the first. She was a bit lukewarm; she said the immersive/compulsive effect is real – it’s the kind of book where you sit down to read a few pages and end up reading 40 – but limited: when she did put it down she wasn’t driven to pick it up again, and she’s not thinking of reading the rest.

(Here’s Biggs.)


ZM 01.18.16 at 12:21 pm


“Somewhat relatedly, though more a memoir and possibly more sympathetic to the men, jesmyn wards “the men we reaped” is worth reading imo”

Yes, I thought that was a good book too


Lynne 01.18.16 at 1:19 pm

Chris, first of all, thank you for not revealing major plot points. I am in the middle of the first book and you have captured much of what I like about it. Another thing I like, and the first that grabbed me, was how insightful she is about emotions. Her characters constantly surprise with their reactions.

That said, I have often been bored. I think this is due to the way she tells the story, in first person narration. I don’t mind first person, but the fact that she rarely dramatizes but almost always narrates makes for (for me) a wearying read. Or listen (I’m listening to the audiobook).

I don’t yet know whether I will read the other books. When she dramatizes, she can be riveting, but as I say, mostly she doesn’t and we are stuck in the narrator’s head when more interesting things are going on. For example, Elena gets an important, long letter that says in the first line that something big and bad has happened, but the next few minutes consist of the narrator’s thoughts on the penmanship and composition of the letter. Too much of this is beyond annoying.

I hope other commenters will be as careful about spoilers as you were.


TM 01.18.16 at 1:59 pm

CB: “I’d like to see a film made, but one not set in Naples but somewhere else. Perhaps Liverpool or Baltimore, somewhere else with poverty, class, crime and community.”

Are you serious? (I guess you must be but I’m in disbelief)


Philip 01.18.16 at 6:31 pm

Thanks Chris, I will definitely give these a try. I used to work in the south of Italy but only visited Naples for a short time. I thought the only comparable UK city would be Glasgow with its division between wealth and poverty and people being welcoming but also a general undertone of violence too.


anon 01.18.16 at 7:19 pm

I gave up half way through book one of the Ferrante quartet. It was okay, and there were some really wonderful passages every now and then, but I didn’t see anything extraordinary enough to justify investing myself in the whole series–I have hundreds of other, better books to read.

I notice that someone quoted a review that seems characteristic of a suspicious move that seems to be becoming more common in criticism these days: “Ferrante’s writing seems to say something that hasn’t been said before – it isn’t easy to specify what this is…”

Convenient that the critic can’t specify it, so it can only be proven by reading it. Not entirely unlike William James argument for religious belief in “The Will to Believe”: ‘there’s some special magic here, we can’t explain it or prove it, so you have no choice but to try to believe it in order to disprove it, but then you’ll believe.’ It’s not a clearly false argument, it might well be true: if I read the entire series, perhaps after the fact I’d then know the critics are right. But it’s suspicious, all the same, when you’re told the blessings will come after you do your penance.

Another example of this will-to-believe critical move is in reviews of Knausgaard, as this parody so perfectly demonstrates: http://www.jonathanball.com/what-knausgard-reviews-look-like-to-people-who-havent-read-knausgard/

“Karl Ove Knausgård’s new book is beyond long, and way past self-indulgent. You should read it! He can’t write well — his prose is clunky and often seems unedited. His translator’s not great. You should read it!”

The emperor has so-so clothes.


dsquared 01.18.16 at 7:46 pm

Anonymous reviewers giving “meh, it bored me” opinions on widely acknowledged classics are amusing enough on Amazon, but somehow even more hilarious when we get them here.


Anderson 01.18.16 at 7:50 pm

I read the 1st volume on a plane, got to the last page, went “holy shit,” & there was never any question in my mind but that I would read the entire series. The woman plots like a demon.


anon 01.18.16 at 9:35 pm

Hey, dsquared, good for you. It’s great that when the culture industry issues its marching orders, you click your heels with pleasure. But some of us are kooky and don’t require the blessings of the widely acknowledging to shore up our cultural egos and don’t find appeals to authority quite so convincing. Don’t worry, though, our non-compliance will only very rarely slip past your cultural censors–shouldn’t be enough to trouble your sleep.


novakant 01.18.16 at 11:36 pm

Convenient that the critic can’t specify it, so it can only be proven by reading it.

Well, it’s a bit like talking about sex vs. having sex?


novakant 01.18.16 at 11:43 pm

Or as one writer whose name I can’t recall said (roughly): if I could tell you in a few words what my book is about, why on earth would I have gone through immense trouble of actually writing it.


Anderson 01.19.16 at 1:40 am

“It’s great that when the culture industry issues its marching orders, you click your heels with pleasure.”

Christ, what an asshole.


JanieM 01.19.16 at 3:25 am

“If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it”
― Isadora Duncan


Meredith 01.19.16 at 7:23 am

Ferrante is my current bedtime reading. Good. Not great, not yet, in my experience. Lending time. (Always nervous in evaluating an experience in translation, to boot.) Naples is not constructed here for entrance by outsiders. (Contrast, e.g., Dibdin.) So the novels don’t feel like they’re taking me into NAPLES (at least not yet — but maybe I am being taken there for the first time). Not a criticism, just an observation.


Bloix 01.19.16 at 7:26 pm

The first book IMHO is a phenomenon – an utterly foreign world (for this reader) seen through the eyes and the emotions of a child maturing into a young woman. And what a world – an impoverished, mafia-ridden city recovering from being on the losing side in a world war.

As the series goes on, it becomes more and more difficult, at least for the non-Italian reader. It’s a bildungsroman, a novel of ideas, and a work of historical fiction – and it demands a great deal in terms of knowledge of Italian political history and Italian intellectual debates. I don’t know how you could even follow the plot – much less any deeper meanings – without a pretty good understanding of Eurocommunism, the Brigati Rossi, the murder of Aldo Moro, European feminism, and the like. I have some basic knowledge, but much of the time I knew just enough to know that I didn’t know enough.

Plus, much of the time, Linu is far from a sympathetic character. I was often wondering whether she was a reliable narrator, or if I was intended to be doubting her version of events or even being given an alternative version that she was communicating unintentionally. It’s easy to feel that you are not understanding what you’re being told, and it’s hard to know if this is the author’s intention, the result of reading in translation, of a product of one’s own ignorance.


Walt 01.19.16 at 9:44 pm

I never receive marching orders from the culture industry. Does that make me uncultured?


Neville Morley 01.19.16 at 10:03 pm

Quite possibly not the intention, but Bloix’s account of the book has fired me up to read it much more than Chris’s did. Sorry. Yes, I am irredeemably pretentious.


kidneystones 01.19.16 at 10:45 pm

@ 19 Bloix does make the book sound good. @ 8 More properly: “I read one half of one book of the series. What I read bored me. I cannot speak with any authority on the remainder of the book I abandoned. My opinion of the other books of the series and others by the same author is worth even less.”

I read novels during vacations. All four I read over Christmas built to a climax in the final quarter and in some cases the last few pages. As for series, the Sea of Fertility varies a great deal novel to novel, in part because I read the work in translation.

I didn’t like/finish ‘Magic Mountain.’ That doesn’t make it a bad book, hardly. With food, painting, music, nature, etc. – each work has its time: a book we found unreadable captures and engages at another time, or setting. The opposite is often true. Few works continue to draw/interest us after multiple readings. That doesn’t make the others ‘bad.’

The question of consensus matters only to the bean counters.


anon 01.19.16 at 11:15 pm

Hey, moderator, if you’re holding up my post because of my reply to Anderson @14, could you just let the part where I reply to Meredith @16 go through?

Novakant @12 and JamieM @15, I think sex and dance are not good analogies, since we’re talking about the qualities of a piece of linguistic art, not a direct sensory experience or an artwork that uses direct sensible experience as its primary medium. Imagine taking that Duncan quote too seriously, and denying that there’s any point to literature. Why write about sex or dance, when you can just do it? But even accepting the analogy, this is a matter of degree. There’s good and bad writing about sex, good and bad critical reviews of dance performances. Likewise, although a literary critic can’t convey the whole of a work in criticism, but they can sure do more than say “take my word for it”. There’s lots of thoughtful, intelligent, critical writing about literature that does make a good case for its evaluative claims. It bothers me that in this case and in Knausgaard, critics pretend that’s impossible or not necessary, that just annointing and commanding is sufficient.

Walt @18, being “uncultured” wouldn’t be such a bad thing if only dsquared’s “widely acknowledged classics” count, but I suspect you indeed receive them too. After all, you’re commenting on a blog that heavily trafficked by academics–people (like me!) whose job it is to make money from the endless regurgitation and reevaluation of cultural commodities. The marching orders aren’t always clearly labelled as such, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get them.

kidneystones @20, I think if you reread my post you’ll see I did not present an opinion on the remainder of the book or the series, so I don’t think your rewrite of my post is very accurate. Sure, I made a judgment call about the probability of whether the rest was worth my time, but only a comparative one: there are other books I have better evidence are worth the time, so one has to choose, and to choose for is always to choose against every other book you don’t read.

It didn’t amount to a claim that the rest of the book or series was bad. Obviously, not liking/finishing Magic Mountain doesn’t *make* it bad any more than finishing it/liking it would *make* it good, but it may well be possible that you don’t finish it because it happens to be bad. It’s true that many a work “has its time” but not that every work does. Trump’s “Crippled America” isn’t a good book waiting for its time, for example.

More importantly, this is a matter of degrees: books can be good but still not as good as another, which is my main complaint about Ferrante and Knausgaard–I feel some need to defend the countless superb books not being read while everyone obediently reads these lengthy series. If you like them, great. But you have to admit there are a lot of people out there reading them dutifully, not because they like them. Why not let them off the hook a little by taking the universal endless, repetitive praise down a notch by not adding yet another voice to what’s already a din?

(For the record, I like Magic Mountain quite a bit–much more than Buddenbrooks! As for the Sea of Fertility, it’s too uneven–I’ve done 3 and it’s mostly been worth it, but I’m in no hurry to finish.)


kidneystones 01.19.16 at 11:30 pm

@21 If “…enough to justify investing myself in the whole series–I have hundreds of other, better books to read.” isn’t a value judgment about a ‘whole series’ of books you haven’t read, what is it? And that’s the generous ‘reading’ of your statement, as ‘hundreds of other, better books to re-read, as in you have read these and know them to be good. A harsher, less charitable reading of your sentence is as a value comparison of two sets of books: neither of which you’ve read.

Glad you like Magic Mountain. Again, you quit before the climax. Decay of the Angel ties the characters and themes together and should be read by any interested in the author’s actions after submitting the final manuscript. Talk about disrupting the boundaries of the text.


Bloix 01.20.16 at 12:22 am

PS – I agree with everything Chris says about it, except that he doesn’t say enough. It’s not so much “about” women, class, hierarchy, as it is about what it means to be a human being who is born and grows and lives within the constraints of a specific world.
The world is examined with a perceptive and critical eye, with an emphasis on gender, class, and hierarchy, but the focus is not on the world – it’s on the girls, who become very different women while growing up under the same conditions. And it’s not just about “identity” in the way that a self identifies with a community – it’s about the creation of a self that experiences its own existence as an identity in relationship to others.

And if that’s too academic, all I can say is, the wedding scene is better than The Godfather.


kidneystones 01.20.16 at 12:27 am

@ 21 Addendum. I won’t be reading Trump for pleasure. And don’t expect to read that book. He cannot be ignored, however. I contend it is incumbent on anyone who pretends to political literacy to at least familiarize ourselves first hand with the various actors.

Many of the same highbrows you deride for falling into culture category blinds will be therefore unaware that Trump and Palin just appeared together on stage in Ames Iowa. Palin delivered a stem-winding endorsement of the next president of the United States, barring some sort of miracle. First time, I’ve ever seen Trump outbomblasted on stage. Palin made Trump’s outsize personality appear palid. Fun times!


Chris Bertram 01.20.16 at 7:36 am

Yes, I endorse Bloix’s account of the “interiority” of the novels. I should have said more about that.


TM 01.20.16 at 8:09 am

21 “everyone obediently reads these lengthy series. If you like them, great. But you have to admit there are a lot of people out there reading them dutifully, not because they like them.”

I have no evidence that this is true, and I doubt you have any. I think your comments would be more valuable if you abstained from mixing your personal literary judgment – which from my perspective is as good as anybody’s – with generalizations about what you think others are thinking and doing.


Jim Buck 01.20.16 at 11:27 am

Well, I am going to read the first one dutifully, and see what happens then.


anon 01.20.16 at 2:35 pm

Meredith @16,

I was also struck by the way the first book didn’t seem to take me into Naples as I’d expected and hoped, but then I realized it’s not really about Naples, but about the characters–above all about their interior worlds. It’s curious that even Lila, who we don’t experience through the narrator and never speaks, evokes a vast interior world with her demeanor and her affect on her friend. Naples is evoked partly in the negative–as an intrusion upon their self-created child’s world or as something they escape to it from.

I was quite impressed by how evocative that world became in certain passages, especially given how spare the scene setting was (but perhaps also partly because of that!). For example, that wonderful section with the doll being dropped into a cellar. The outside world consists, for all we know, of one (hardly described) street, houses (about which we know only that there are at least two floors), and a cellar grate. But it’s a really beautiful, mysterious, scene that feels exactly like being there and exactly like being a child.

(As a side note, if you want to really be taken into Naples, my vote is for the horrific and astonishing post WWII novel by Curzio Malaparte, The Skin.)

kidneystones @20,

Is your name supposed to be pronounced like the doctor on “Friends” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3ITjqLSAZY)? Because that’s how I hear it in my head.

No, I wasn’t thinking of rereading. I just meant I have a shelves of full of books on my to read list, most of which I’m hoping or expecting will be better–which is why I called it a judgment about “probability”. I make that judgment for a variety of reasons, the most important two being: 1) literature is an embarrassment of riches: there are always better books remaining to be read, since the history of literature is vast in comparison to any individual’s knowledge and 2) I’ve been observing the literary culture industry for many decades, and know that the big flavors of each year are often passing trends, with only a few in each decade that really stand the test of time.

But it’s important to recognize that every decision to read a book involves probability and ignorance. You cannot judge about the book you choose, since you haven’t read it yet. But equally importantly, by choosing for, say, Ferrante, you’re choosing against millions of books that you also haven’t read–so your implied negative judgment (that those other million books won’t be as good as Ferrante) is also made in ignorance.

So making probabilistic judgments about things we haven’t read just IS constitutive of the act of choosing a book to read. My probable “hundreds of better books” include a lot of books by authors I’ve already read, so I suspect they’re better because I know the author’s work. It also includes books that are recommended by authors who I love, or books that are seminal in literary genres, styles, and periods that I appreciate, as well as recommended by people whose judgment I trust. It also includes true unknowns. That is: I know from experience I will stumble onto books that I didn’t expect to be great, so I know that some books on my to-read list that I don’t have reason to think will be fantastic will turn out to be.

Life is short, and art–especially literature–is long. It’s all chance in the long run, and anyone who follows their curiosity will encounter more wonderful art and literature than they could ever have the time for. So I don’t sweat having correct opinions about this stuff. I’d rather defend *all* the great authors out there and encourage people to read *widely* among them, rather than engage in canon wars that try to narrow it down to “must reads.” I have no patience with the current culture’s obssession with listicling the endless things we “absolutely must” do.

(By the way, I’ll finish the Mishima series eventually, it’s just on an indefinite hiatus.)

TM @26,

My use of the word “everyone” was, of course, a huge exaggeration! But if you really need evidence for my implied claim that rational choice theory is false–even (and especially) in the consumption of cultural commodities–then our views of human nature and culture are probably too disparate to be worth debating.


novakant 01.20.16 at 4:38 pm

anon, my analogy was put forward in reaction to your rather snide first comment and of course it’s not the whole story. I was a comp lit. major, so I certainly value literary theory and criticism and all sorts of related shenanigans.


TM 01.20.16 at 8:45 pm

Is there anything to the comparison between the Ferrante and Knausgaard books that has been made above (other than that both series have many pages)? Asking those with first hand knowledge.


anon 01.20.16 at 9:43 pm

Two quite interesting critic’s comparisons here:

For what it’s worth, I didn’t have any intention of comparing the authors or their books. I was only comparing their critical reception. (My criticism of Ferrante was pretty mild: “okay” with “some really wonderful passages.”)

My primary complaint is against professional critics who too uncritically jump the latest bandwagon (they can like, even love it, without always declaring the next big thing “Best. Book. Ever.”) and often fail to make a very convincing case–i.e., do their job. This can happen even with deserving novels. For example, Bolano’s 2666 is absolutely as good as the hype. But many of the reviewers climbing over each other to praise it the most were clearly full of it, and did a pretty lousy job of making the case.


t. gracchus 01.20.16 at 10:15 pm

I thought it also about failure, partly political and partly personal failure.


kidneystones 01.20.16 at 10:51 pm

@ 28 Cheers! I think TM has it about right and I’d find myself agreeing with you more often than not on the constraints the arbiters of approved reading/thinking/consumption attempt to impose upon others.


novakant 01.20.16 at 11:38 pm

OK, you haven’t read the books, but have you read the reviews you are complaining about – the reality is more complex:

A striking element in the praise of Knausgaard—and he has garnered almost uniform praise in the English-speaking press—is the recourse to vocabulary not normally considered complimentary. “Boring” comes up an enormous amount. James Wood of the New Yorker wrote of Book One that “even when I was bored, I was interested.” Other terms that get used are “self-aggrandizing,” “sloppy,” “lack of selection,” “lack of structure,” “intermittent meaninglessness,” “cliche,” and “banal.” Again, these are all quotes from highly laudatory reviews.



Anderson 01.21.16 at 3:40 am

30: nope. K is digressive, verbose, dwells more on himself than everyone else put together. (Is my impression from 2/3 of 1st book & 1/4 of 2d.) F juggles lots of characters, turns better phrases, & has an effective plot. Little comparison that I can see.


js. 01.21.16 at 4:48 am

Bolano’s 2666 is absolutely as good as the hype. But many of the reviewers climbing over each other to praise it the most were clearly full of it, and did a pretty lousy job of making the case.

I second this. I don’t read a lot of book reviews (of fiction)—largely because I don’t read a lot of new fiction. But 2666 was phenomenal, and I love me a good review, so I went looking for reviews. And even though they were almost all raves, they were by and large useless. (Harper’s had a good one, as I recall.)


TM 01.21.16 at 10:08 am

I generally observe a lack of critical reviews. Many reviews I have read (e.g. in NYRB) miss a real critical examination of the book under review. Even when they are not overly laudatory, they often fail to question the book and point to flaws, which I think would be the job of a reviewer.

I’m particular annoyed with this lack of critique in reviews of nonfictional books, which often simply consist in summarizing the book’s thesis without actually questioning it.


TM 01.21.16 at 10:10 am

This btw cannot be said about most Knausgaard reviews, which even when positive did dwell on the flaws of the books.


Lynne 01.21.16 at 12:10 pm

Just finished My Brilliant Friend and after feeling lukewarm about it much of the time am about to buy book 2 because the end cast the whole in a different and very interesting light.


Vanya 01.21.16 at 1:20 pm

TM – For what it’s worth, Italian critics seem to be far more lukewarm on Ferrante and tend to be bemused by the ecstatic reception she has in the English speaking world. I actually read the books in the original Italian and found the books amazing, so I don’t think the translation is the issue. As far as I can tell the criticisms run along these lines -she is not a great stylist*, her plotting is too engaging for a “serious” writer, she is repetitive, etc. The more Ferrante succeeds outside Italy, the greater the annoyance of Italian critics, who all have their pet favorites they think deserve more attention.

*True. She does not have an amazingly extensive vocabulary, nor does she offer much in the way of extended lyrical passages. On the other hand this makes her very attractive to non-native speakers of Italian who might want to try the original. She is not particularly difficult.


Vanya 01.21.16 at 1:28 pm

If anyone is interested, here is a fairly typical Italian criticism of Ferrante which also unsubtly implies that Americans are shallow for liking her.



Anderson 01.21.16 at 1:35 pm

I’d seen the criticisms Vanya mentions, with also some more or less unsubtle hints that F is writing soap operas … books about women falling in/out of love being Insufficiently Serious. Given F’s feminism, that’s a large can of worms.


anon 01.21.16 at 1:44 pm

Lynne @39,

Oh, don’t tell me that! I’ve had that experience every now and then, and it’s what usually makes it impossible for me to not finish a book. For me the best example of this phenomenon is John Williams’ “Stoner.” I was not impressed at all until the final chapter, then the end changed everything, and I found myself basically rehearsing the book in my mind in light of the end. In Ferrante’s case, it was the prospect of committing and possibly waiting 4 books for that flip that decided me. Maybe my bet didn’t pay. The good thing about such bets, however, is that I can’t truly know what I’m missing!

@27, I find it frustrating when a reviewer gives a non-committal descriptive review to avoid a critical review. Is it because they usually only review books they like? Or because the literary world’s so small that a critical review will step on too many career-useful toes?

@28 True, they do always include about the obvious criticisms. But they either mention them but without satisfactorily answering them, or, more strangely–as in the quote Novakant posted–they try to sell those criticisms as virtues (unconvincingly to my mind). Which is why I found that parody so funny–it’s as if your supposed to read it *because of*, not despite, the criticisms.

Vanya @40, thanks for this, it’s really interesting to learn that Italian critics are more divided. I must admit one of things I definitely liked about her writing was the lack of excessive style. For example, I think the doll-dropping scene I mentioned earlier was all the more powerful in part because of the minimal description. (I’m an old-school modernist, so my default prejudice is that a book with too much “style” in the usual writerly-I’ll-show-you-how-writingy-my-writing-is sense can’t be a serious one.)


Lynne 01.21.16 at 2:23 pm

Anon, so many books, so little time! But the great thing here is that if you have second thoughts, My Brilliant Friend isn’t going anywhere….


anon 01.21.16 at 3:17 pm

Lynne, so true! I suspect I’ll get back to Ferrante one day. But it may be a while, since every time I go to my Italian literature shelf, yet another unread Moravia seduces me away!


Jonathan Mayhew 01.21.16 at 4:38 pm

I’m reading it in Italian now. It’s a bit difficult for me given my poor Italian reading skills, but it’s enjoyable. I’ve been looking for something long enough to be able to get totally absorbed in it and thus be able to truly claim reading knowledge of this language. I don’t tend to read realist novels (except 19th century ones) but I don’t mind if I have an ulterior motive.


novakant 01.21.16 at 10:07 pm

Well, Henry James and Robert Musil are pretty boring by any standard, so are Atonioni, Wenders and Jarmush. And yet they capture aspects of life that are familiar to many of us and yet hard to pin down in a few words and probably can’t be expressed without being a bit boring.


anon 01.22.16 at 3:56 pm

Sure, I agree that there are aspects of life that can’t be expressed without being a bit boring, and that boringness needn’t always be a bad quality in an artwork. Of your examples Antonioni rings quite true for me. I just don’t find that Ferrante or Knausgaard are examples of that kind of work or, if they are, that they’re entirely successful at it.

To be fair, my sense of boring is much different than most. Musil is a true page-turner for me. Jarmusch movies are easy, effortless, pleasure. Wenders, too, except for the godawful ones.

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