The Millions: Ann Hood chooses The Neapolitan Novels as her greatest reading pleasures of 2013
Date: Dec 19 2013
Naples, Italy, has always had a special draw for me. Back in 1952, before I was born, my parents and older brother Skip lived there for three years. It’s weird to have much of the family legend happen without me in it. But Naples stories were repeated fondly and often — of the ghost who roamed the hallway in their apartment in a white nightgown; the three of them riding the funicular; visiting Pompeii every weekend with a picnic of salami sandwiches to watch them excavate the ruins; hiking Mt. Vesuvius and hot lava burning the soles of my father’s shoes. In fact, every time my father ascended the stairs in our house to get to the bedroom on the second floor, he’d groan, “Here I come, Mt. Vesuvius.” The characters of their neighborhood also populated our lives long after they’d come back to the United States. The fruit man, the fish man, the man who sold roasted chestnuts.
So, it is perhaps no surprise that my greatest reading pleasure this year has been the first two books in Elena Ferrante’s trilogy that explores the lives and emotional connections of two girls in post World War II Naples. The first, My Brilliant Friend, follows them as young girls. The second, The Story of a New Name, continues their story into marriage and careers. Even if I wasn’t attracted to all things Naples, these novels are exactly what makes for terrific reading — they are literary but accessible, poignant and emotionally true, and they explore both friendship and the role of women against a setting that is lively and interesting. Best part? There’s one more novel still to come.