Friday, December 15, 2017

I have finally finished my book on the novels of Elena Ferrante!

I have been neglecting this little blog—and everything else in my life for that matter--to fulfill my commitment to deliver my manuscript, In Search of Elena Ferrante to the publisher by December 15. It’s now in the hands of UPS. I don’t know yet what the final title will be as the publisher has the rights over the title and unfortunately the price.

I am in state of exhaustion, and feel like some kind of cold /flu is coming on. This reminds me of what tended to happen when I was working—especially at the end of the fall semester. Right after I submitted my grades, I got sick, usually something minor; it was almost as if by sheer will power I was holding off the flu until my grades were in.

I wrote this book to try to understand why the Neapolitan Quartet has had such a hold over me. The answer is no surprise; Ferrante has created truly memorable characters. Great novelists owe their place in the literary pantheon to the creation of characters such as David Copperfield, Anna Karenina, Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre, Heathcliff, Raskolnikov etc.; for many readers, these are real people. I was struck by novelist Jonathan Franzen’s response when asked by an interviewer what question he would ask Elena Ferrante if he had the opportunity. Franzen replied: “I might ask her what she imagines happened to the eponymous lost child of the fourth Neapolitan novel.” For Franzen, like many other readers, Tina is on some level a real person and we want very much to know her fate. I had a similar experience when I read that as the result of a 1986 prison reform law, life in prison was effectively abolished in Italy. My initial reaction was to think that just maybe Pasquale would not spend his entire life in prison, as if Pasquale were a real person rotting away in Poggioreale prison, rather than a fictional character.

As Ferrante herself has said, every book is a collective effort. I owe a great deal to the members of my feminist book club: Kathy Black, Gloria Gilman, Caryn Hunt and Beth Lewis. They went along with my suggestion to read Ferrante’s novels, although Ferrante was just beginning to be known in the United States, and at the time none had heard of her. The opportunity to discuss Ferrante’s novels with them certainly helped me to clarify my thinking and deepen my appreciation for Ferrante’s work. I owe a special debt to my good friend Kathy Black who read and critiqued an early draft of this book.

Most of all I owe a debt to my husband Rick, for his invaluable assistance in critiquing and proofreading the manuscript. I am especially indebted to him for his insights into the special challenges of analyzing a work in translation as well as insights into the process of translation itself. In a sense, this book was a collaboration between Rick and me, perhaps especially appropriate as Ferrante’s novels are I believe a collaboration between Anita Raja and her husband Domenico Starnone.

I have been living with Ferrante’s novels for some time now--reading, writing and rereading about Elena, Lila, Nino, Pasquale and the whole cast of characters. I can’t quite let go and am tempted to pick up My Brilliant Friend and immerse myself in yet another re-reading. But I have a stack of books I have put off reading until the Ferrante book was done and it’s time to shift gears for a while.

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