The Story of a New Name (Elena Ferrante)

The Story of a New Name is the second of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. I read the German translation (Die Geschichte eines neuen Namens) by Karin Krieger.
Finished on: 4.4.2021
[Here’s my review of the first novel.]

Content Note: rape, domestic violence, abuse

With Lila’s marriage, she and Elena develop away from each other even more. But at the same time, they cannot let go of each other. Elena watches from a distance as Lila’s abusive marriage to Stefano turns ever more complicated by her husband’s business relations. Meanwhile Elena is dating Antonio more out of a sense of obligation, while still yearning for Nino who seems to be everything she aspires to. After Lila has a miscarriage, she asks Elena to accompany on a holiday to get her strength back. During that holiday, their paths cross with Nino and everything changes.

After reading My Brilliant Friend, I was reluctant but curious to continue, not quite sure what apparently millions of other people saw in the novel. The same thing is still true for The Story of a New Name. I read it, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either and I am still scratching my head as to why this series has gotten quite this big.

The book cover showing an illustration of a woman in a bridal gown standing on a balcony over the sea, her veil blowing in the wind together with petals from her bouquet.

The book is rather tough to read because there is just so much violence in it. Lila is constantly beaten and raped, and other women, too, are beaten. It is such an everyday occurence in their society and Ferrante describes it rather bluntly, it takes a bit of steel to get through it. She does have a good eye for the way violence is part of what makes a man a man here (and not, say, a masculine biological trait), so that is something. Though its most astute observations are all about class.

Lila’s and Lenu’s relationship is always described as a friendship, and the series touted as one that finally tells the truth of female friendship, and I think that’s my biggest issue with it. Because I don’t see how they are really friends. Both continuously hurt each other and are spiteful and envious of each other. Yes, they also always turn to each other, but mostly because they don’t have anybody else to turn to who they regard as equal. But that does not make a friendship, and I resent that this is the way we apparently think all female friendships are, when you scratch of the friendly veneer. It makes me want to gather my female friends behind me and hiss at the world because it is absolutely not how I feel our friendships work.

The other thing that really bothered me was Nino. He is such an asshole and that both Lila and Lenu fall for him and that we just can’t get rid of him, apparently, makes me want to scream. Kick this dude into the sun. Better to be alone than to be with him.

The writing here is still so-so. It’s easily readable, but not particularly brilliant and the translation is also bumpy, though maybe not quite as bumpy as the translation of the first novel. I’ll probably continue with the series, but I’ll need another break before I do so.

Summarizing: okay.

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