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Lit Hub's Five Books Making News This Week: THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD

Date: Sep 1 2015

Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym) has built a fan-base so profoundly devoted that there’s a hashtag (#FerranteFever) and an enthusiastic flush of anticipation as the fourth and final novel in her Neapolitan series descends.

John Domini (Washington Post) pronounces The Story of the Lost Child “the essential volume,” describing it as “a ‘city book,’ a knowing and complex tale that encompasses an entire metropolis.”

Rachel Cusk (New York Times Book Review) compares Ferrante’s short novels with her Neapolitan series, teasing out the thematic resemblances.

One can call Ferrante’s novels ‘her story’ for the reason that they are openly autobiographical in form: Against the telling and retelling of the life of a single Neapolitan mother of two—frequently called Elena—who rises from impoverished beginnings to become a successful author, publisher and academic… These facts are as consistent in the short novels as in the long, but in the Neapolitan saga Ferrante’s writ runs much wider, into detailed accounts of state corruption, murder and political scandals whose participants are presumably recognizable to the modern Italian reader.

In this final volume, Cusk adds, “Elena’s lifelong fear—that Lila, while having made no mark on the world, is in fact more brilliant than she is—bites more deeply, as the two women age, into the very roots of female identity: continuity, stability, the capacity to nurture.”

The reviewer for The Economist offers further insights. Ferrante uses “the melodramatic tropes of soap opera to tell a cracking good story, all the while smuggling in piercing observations, like a file baked in a cake… Through this fusion of high and low art, Ms. Ferrante emerges as a 21st-century Dickens, with readers clamoring for the next installment at the shops. Readers are bored by the sameness of Anglo-American fiction, with its middle-class focus and its insistence on dialogue and scene. Above all, the story has what Marina Warner, a British writer and academic, calls ‘hallucinatory vividness,’ a density of detail that makes it burn.”

As Ferrante’s series has grown, writes Scott Esposito (San Francisco Chronicle), “each new novel has engulfed its antecedents, absorbing and assimilating them into its basic fiber.” At times, he adds, “it feels as though every single one of this book’s 150-plus subsections ends on a miniature cliffhanger, egging readers toward answers that Ferrante tends to explore with a skill worthy of her gifts.”

Meanwhile, here’s a reminder to take a look at Elissa Schappell’s (Vanity Fair) rare conversation with the notoriously reclusive author, who talks about “the dangers of writing while female. And check out the Paris Review interview conducted by her Italian publishers, Sandro and Sandra Ferri, in which she discusses her final revisions for the book and her characters (“Much of the story depends on the differences between Elena and Lila. These can all be traced back to the changing condition of women”).