Adam constructs Eve, forces her – by definition – to conform to his conditions, and so constricts her movement, development and existence. She is denied the most fundamental of rights, in every possible way. She is denied her the right to become, denied he right to speak, denied the right to feel worthy. She is denied the right to own it, to own herself, her dreams. She is denied her aspirations, a direction. This is what I think the story of Lenù and Lina, being lost in Napoli, and thus the world, is about. It is also a story of abandonment, of vulnerability. It is about the necessary lack of trust in a world which offers no certainty. It is about dealing with a social universe where survival of the fittest is no theory but a fact, as is the fact that the definition of fittest at any given time is re-defined. And it makes the case, I feel, that survival many times could be deemed as over-rated, especially when there is – or never was – anything to live for.
I know it is late in the game, there are many other who already have convinced us this epic drama is exceptional, just as many others have made quite insightful analyses of Ferrante’s life’s work, and its meaning. But I have quite unexpectedly been given the (sort of) gift of a significant amount of time to read and write. So, this is the time in my life I got the opportunity to stomp down to the library, where I picked up the Neapolitan Quartet, and made it this week’s mission. Which turned out to be quite a tedious project. This I did not expect: The obvious need to pay attention to every freaking sentence, so that I would not miss some precious key that might unlock the mystery that is the relationship between the girls that never grow up, because they are stuck in a life-long fight to survive.
So many have already relished/endured the journey that this story offers in the gestalt of the dynamic duo that is the back-bone of this epic story. It is so detailed that, if you have not the time to read it carefully, you may miss the depth of it, its truths (whatever they might be) and occasional lies (or rather smokes and mirrors). So detailed is the relation of the story’s two main protagonists, or rather the construction of the relationship as is “revealed” by the exposition of Elena’s (and her concurrent interpretation of Lila’s) inner life, the sum, or rather gestalt of her reflections, her self-doubt and obvious self-hatred, her deserved sense of pride, every secret thought, as well as her hopes and needs. Her sharp observations and attempts to understand the context that makes her all that she (and her alter ego) is – the only person she could become – makes a fascinating read, especially considering how it mirrors how both men and women survive (or not) the constricting context that they are born into.
Reading the quartet was at times a frustrating experience. It is as slow as it is fast-paced. It is as detailed and specific as it is, in part, vague. The story tells the – or rather many – truths as well as it is a too perfect literary construction. While it is a horrifying description of the sexual and psychological violence women endure and sometimes survive, it still does not move me in the way I expected it would (why is that? because I might lose it?). The constant re-building and breaking down of the trust between Elena and Lila is both likely and unlikely, but in the end rings true as this construct serves the purpose of showing they are one. That Lenù is Lina and vice versa.
This piece of work cannot be defined as an ordinary saga. Because is so much more. Because it is perfect, even in its imperfections. And even though I don’t know if I really like or love it – this is not that kind of story, as it demands you question your own being – it has changed me in a significant way. Or rather, it made me better understand who I am, why I am, and what I need to do. That I have the right. That I am in the right.
Kudos to you, Elena Ferrante. I am so very impressed.
Anita B Kristo © 2019