Now an HBO series, book three in the New York Times bestselling Neapolitan quartet about two friends in post-war Italy is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted epic by one of today's most beloved and acclaimed writers, Elena Ferrante, “one of the great novelists of our time.” (Roxana Robinson, The New York Times)
In the third book in the Neapolitan quartet, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her husband and the comforts her marriage brought and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which has opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons. Both women are pushing against the walls of a prison that would have seen them living a life of misery, ignorance and submission. They are afloat on the great sea of opportunities that opened up during the nineteen-seventies. Yet they are still very much bound to each other by a strong, unbreakable bond.
Ferrante is one of the world’s great storytellers. With the Neapolitan quartet she has given her readers an abundant, generous, and masterfully plotted page-turner that is also a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight readers for many generations to come.
Surpassing the rapturous storytelling of the previous titles in the Neapolitan Novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name), Ferrante here reunites Elena and Lil, two childhood friends, who dissect subjects as complicated as their own relationship, including feminism and class, men and women, mothers and children, sex and violence, and origin and destiny. As the narrative unfolds in the late 1960s and early 70s, the fiery Lila stays in Naples, having escaped an abusive marriage, and lives platonically with a man from the neighborhood, along with her young, possibly illegitimate son. The feisty Elena leaves town, graduates from a university in Pisa, publishes a successful book, marries an upper-class professor, and moves to Florence, where she gives birth to two daughters. Against the backdrop of student revolution and right-wing reaction, the two women s tumultuous friendship seesaws up and down as each tries to outdo the other. You wanted to write novels, Lila tells Elena. I created a novel with real people, with real blood, in reality. Are the two women less opposites than parts of a whole? The book concludes not with a duality but with a surprising new triangle involving Nino, another homegrown intellectual, who loves both women.
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This book gave me a headache. Neapolitans are portrayed as crazy, insane, dirty, ugly. Lenù and Lila are two of the ugliest women ever written as characters in a book. They are self centered, self serving, and disgusting. The whole of humanity in Italy seems to have risen from a dragon. But I keep reading, trying to find the theme. The point of it all? My headache.