It all started innocently enough. As the 2014 Best of lists started coming out a name I hadn’t heard before kept cropping up: Elena Ferrante. Her latest book, Those who Leave and Those who Stay made the New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year list, and the New Yorker’s Best Books of 2014 column; it placed fifth on Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 and made Kirkus‘ list as well. Those who Leave and Those who Stay is the third book in a proposed series of four — how had I not heard of the series before now? Curious, I asked for My Brilliant Friend, the first book, on my Christmas list and Santa obliged.
My Brilliant Friend is not a small novel — it’s over 300 pages, and yet not four days after Christmas I was done (and more than 100 pages into the second book). I’ve temporarily abandoned the other books on my TBR: Lily King’s Euphoria, Station Eleven (Heidi’s favourite of 2014), and John Scalzi’s Lock In. Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels are simply that good. And absorbing.
At its heart, the Neopolitan novels are about the complicated relationship between two women: Lila and Lena. It’s that simple. We meet the girls when they are young enough to think that their dolls are vital, and that the neighbour is an ogre. They are friends yet don’t always act like it; their friendship is rendered in all the complexity of a real relationship. Lena is jealous of Lila’s fierce intelligence and beauty, Lila envies the opportunities Lena has that she herself is denied. The first book ends with the description of what someone is wearing. In Ferrante’s hand this amounts to a shocking revelation. I picked up the second book nearly immediately and haven’t looked back. I highly recommend you do the same. Book Four is due out this fall, and I have complete faith that it’ll be tops of several 2015 Best of lists.