1

The Neapolitan Novels

Everyone kept talking about Elena Ferrante and the Neapolitan books and how they were so good and I had to read them.

I caved and read My Brilliant Friend, book one, over Christmas 2015. It was fine but I wasn’t obsessed like everyone said I would be.

I’ve just finished book three, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and I just want to go on record as saying, these books are so good and you really do need to read them.

neapolitan

Maybe it was that in the first book, frenemies (are we still allowed to use this word?) Elena and Lila are still children and it takes a while for them to grow up. Their childhood slights and troubles didn’t make as big an impact on me, but I did enjoy life in their Naples neighbourhood.

But it is essential to know Lila and Elena as children, to understand their dynamic, the competition they felt with each other, where they grew up, to appreciate how their relationship ebbs and flows through the other books.

After books two (The Story of a New Name) and three, I am stunned at how Ferrante has been able to write about the complications of female friendship. Lila, who wasn’t able to continue going to school after Grade 5, has been married to an abusive man, left to work in a factory where the working conditions were pretty miserable until someone from the neighbourhood offers her an opportunity she can’t refuse. Elena, who has continued to study throughout university, has published a novel, married a professor and moved all the way to Florence. There she finds that she’s not terribly happy despite having everything she thought she wanted.

Through all the changes in their lives, there continues to be a magnetic pull between the two women. There is no one who knows you as well as those friends from childhood, especially when you remain in each other’s lives. But those relationships become complicated by the person you want to become, the new ways you see the world, the people you meet that aren’t from the same place as you. It can become difficult to maintain the level of intimacy you had from childhood.

This is the essence of Elena Ferrante’s incredible books. They ruminate on the internal lives of women, the struggle to be seen as a separate entity from wife or mother, to have things for ourselves outside those roles, how our relationships with other women change over time. All of this against the political changes of Italy from the 1950s forward.

These books are brilliant. They continue to gather more fans, to have more people talk about them because they are wonderful. If your only exposure to these books is the whole “who is Elena Ferrante?” business, you need to get to a bookstore/library and sort your life out.

Still plenty of time until it becomes an HBO produced series. 

I am desperate to read book four, The Story of the Lost Child, but I also don’t want to finish the series.

13

Lake Reads: Easter 2017

It’s been pretty quiet around here eh?

I’m going through another reading rough patch – I’m having a lot of trouble concentrating on reading! It’s been really busy at work and we’re still house hunting (which is the most intense experience out here) so I don’t have much left for this space.

BUT.

That’s about to change because it’s Easter and you know what that means? I’m headed to my in-laws’ house and all that’s expected of me in the next few days is to read and have some drinks. Maybe also run to town for ice cream.

lake reads

I have been looking forward to this weekend for weeks and weeks, thinking about what books will come with me. I’ve changed my mind many times but in the end, these are the books that I’m taking with.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. You may recall that I wasn’t a massive fan of My Brilliant Friend. It took me more than a year to take a chance on the second book in the series, The Story of a New Name. Well, that one converted me. I fell for that book hard and I think it’s safe to say that I’m obsessed by the friendship between Lila and Elena. I can’t wait to get into the third book.

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. This account of a white journalist going undercover as a black man in the Deep South in 1959 is more serious lake reading but it feels important and timely.

The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter. What can I say? I’ve been in a murder state of mind. I’ve been listening to as many episodes of the My Favorite Murder podcast as time will allow. Given my non-focus abilities recently, I need something to grip me. I was haunted by Slaughter’s Pretty Girls. I look forward to her scaring the crap out of me again. This book needs to be back at the library on Tuesday – someone is waiting for it!

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. When I saw this post from Amy @ Read a Latte I was intrigued. I mean, it’s serious if you read a book twice in a week. When I was next at the library, I saw this book sitting out and felt like it was meant to be. I like the idea of an office duel between competing assistants who hate each other right about now.

The Secrets You Keep by Kate White. I don’t want to brag but I know the guy who took the picture that they used for this cover. When he told me about it I looked the book up and it sounded interesting: what would you do if your new husband is keeping secrets from you, ones that are potentially dangerous? I pre-ordered it (something I NEVER do) and now I’m taking it to the lake.

The Edge of the Fall by Kate Williams. I read the first book in this promised trilogy (The Storms of War) quite a while ago. It was the story of a German-English family navigating society into the First World War and what it meant for their place in it. Kate Williams is an incredible biographer and she has taken equal care in crafting some solid historical fiction.

And that’s “it.” Three full days, 10 hours worth of car rides – I can do some serious reading damage this weekend. Promise that when I get back, I will actually post about some of it.

Happy Easter, friends!

22

Batch Reviews: Edition the First

You know that feeling you have when you’ve read a number of books and haven’t talked about any of them? That vaguely uneasy feeling that makes you feel kind of bad for even being online at all since you’re obviously not doing anything of value?

That’s kind of where I’ve been living in 2016. I read a bunch of books over Christmas and meant to get on here and talk about them and then I just didn’t. And now we’re in that horrible place where I read some of these books WEEKS ago and I’m supposed to discuss them in a meaningful way?

To clear the backlog (mostly of guilt) I’m going to batch them together in mini-reviews. No rhyme or reason to the groups. Random. Kind of like these posts in the first place.

nightingale

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I was not going to read this. And then I overheard someone in a bookstore mention to a customer that she had never cried so hard reading a book. My sister and a friend both had the same experiences. I got it for Christmas and it was the first book I read in 2016.

Vianne Mauriac’s husband has left for the front and she and her daughter, Sophie, are left to care for their home as best they can. Soon a German soldier tells them that he’s going to be billeting in their home, complicating all their lives. Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, has always been rebellious and more than a little bit reckless. Having been kicked out of a final school, she is at a loose end when Paris is invaded. Running from Paris, to Vianne’s small village, she meets a young man and falls in love. That’s how she becomes involved in the Resistance.

It took me ages to become invested in this book. Maybe I’ve been reading too much WWII fiction – at times it felt like we were just checking off WWII cliches from a list: forbidden love, German soldier living with you, resistance fighters, Jewish complications, harsh winters, poverty and black markets. But at some point, it becomes more than that. It’s two sisters, each fighting for their future, sacrificing almost everything in the process. As they fight for survival, they also fight each other and the relationship that has always been complicated.

In the end, I was bawling my eyes out on the bus, despite being told not to read the end on the bus. So I guess it was worth it.

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My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Everyone and their mother seems to have read this story of two friends, Elena and Lila, growing up in a poor neighbourhood in Naples post-WWII. Seems like you either love it or you hate it.

Heinous cover art aside, I fall somewhere in the middle. I love that Ferrante is this anonymous person, who does not discuss the work once it is finished. I love the era in Italy and getting a chance to learn something about what it was like to be a child in an Italy freshly ravaged by war, the social structure that dictated daily life.

But mostly I found it hard going to even get through this. I wanted to give up a number of times. Lila and Elena are best friends but they also act kind of like enemies. It seems more like the accident of their having been born around the same time in the same building, meant that they were expected to be friendly. Elena ends up excelling in school, going to the high school and learning Latin and Greek while Lila is pulled out of school once elementary school is over. Yet, Lila still manages to learn Greek and Latin and accounting and design shoes in her father’s shop.

At times I wasn’t totally convinced that Lila wasn’t a sociopath. We follow the girls to the day of Lila’s wedding and then it ends. But it’s the kind of ending that is supposed to make you want to pick up the next book. I admit that I am curious. I know that IF I do pick up the next book, The Story of a New Name, it will be from the library.

OK. That’s two out of the way. There are more to come! Probably!

PS if you have a  snappy name for these, hit me up!