Wash day in Naples, 1956. Photo: Keystone Features/ Getty Images
You say its are required to do interviews, at the least, and thats penalty, youre right. Tell Fofi to send me the questions, Ill answer. In these 10 years I hope Ive grown up. In my own defence, however, I will say only this: in the games with newspapers, one always aims up lying and at the root of the lie is the need to offer oneself to the public in the best form, with thinks suitable to the role, with the makeup we imagine is suitable.
Well, I dont at all hate lies; in life I find them useful and I resort to them when necessary to shield my person, feelings, pressures. But lying about books makes me suffer; literary fiction seems to me stimulated intentionally to always tell the truth.
Therefore I care deeply about the truth of The Days of Abandonment . I wouldnt would like to speak about it meekly, complying with the high expectations implicit in the interviewers questions. The ideal for me would be to obtain, through short answers, the same effect as literature, that is, to orchestrate lies that always tell, strictly, the truth. Lets consider, in other words, what Im capable of. I feel Im in good shape, I tend to tell true lies even if Im writing a note of congratulations. As soon as you have the questions, send them to me.
This interview with Paolo Di Stefano appeared in the Corriere della sera on 20 November 2011, under the title Ferrante: Felice di non esserci ( Ferrante: happy not happening there) and with the following introduction: My Brilliant Friend is very different from Elena Ferrantes earlier novels. Its a wonderful Bildungsroman , or, rather, two, or more than two its the histories of a generation of friends-enemies. An interview with Ferrante requires the mediation of her publishers, Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola. The questions are asked by email and answered by email . Di Stefano: Elena Ferrante, how did you attain the transition from one type of psychological household fiction ( Troubling Love and The Days of Abandonment ) to a fiction that, like this, promises to be the first of a trilogy or a tetralogy, and which is in plot and in style so centrifugal and, at the same time, so centripetal ?
Ferrante: I dont feel that this novel is so different from the preceding ones. Many years ago I had the idea of telling the story of an old person who intends to disappear which doesnt entail die without leaving any tracing of her existence. I was fascinated by the idea of a tale that demonstrated how difficult it is to erase yourself, literally, from the face of the Earth. Then the tale became complicated. I introduced a childhood friend who served as an inflexible witness of every event, small or big, in the life of the other. Finally, I realised that what interested me was to dig into two female lives that had many affinities and yet were divergent. Thats what I did. Of course, its a complex project, as the tale covers some 60 years. But Lila and Elena are made of the same material that fed the other novels. The two friends whose childhood tale is say, Elena Greco, the first-person narrator, and her friend-enemy Lila Cerullo, are similar yet different. They endlessly overlap just when they seem to be growing apart. Is it a novel about friendship and how an encounter can determine a life? But also about how attraction to the bad example helps develop an identity ?
Generally, a person who had asserts his personality, in doing so, makes the other opaque. The stronger, richer personality obliterates the weaker, in life and perhaps even more in novels. But, in the relationship between Elena and Lila, Elena, the subordinate, gets from her subordination a kind of magnificence that disorients, that astonishes Lila. Its a motion thats hard to describe, but for that reason it interested me. Let me set it like this: the many events in the lives of Lila and Elena will show how one describe strength from the other. But beware: not only in the sense that they help each other, but also in the sense that they plunder each other, stealing feeling and intelligence, depriving each other of energy. How did memory and distance( temporal and perhaps spatial) influence the development of the book ?
I think that putting distance between experience and tale is something of a cliche. The problem, for the writer, is often the opposite: to bridge the distance, to feel physically potential impacts of the material to be narrated, to approach the past of people weve loved, lives as weve find them, as theyve “ve been told” to us. A tale, to take shape, needs to pass through many filters. Often we begin to write too soon and the pages are cold. Merely when we feel the tale in each of its moments, in every nook and cranny( and sometimes it takes years ), can it be written well. My Brilliant Friend is also a fiction about violence in the family and in society. Does the fiction describe how a person manages( or managed) to grow up in violence and/ or in spite of violence ?
In general, one grows up warding off blows, returning them, even agreeing to receive them with stoic generosity. In the case of My Brilliant Friend , the world in which the girls grow up has some obviously violent features and others that are covertly violent. Its the latter that interest me most, even though there are plenty of the first. On page 130 theres a wonderful sentence, about Lila: She took the facts and in a natural way charged them with tension; she intensified reality as she reduced it to terms. And then on page 227: The voice set in the writing overwhelmed me It was completely cleansed of the dross of speech. Is that a statement of style ?
Lets say that, among the many methods we apply to give a narrative order to the world, I favor one in which the writing is clear and honest, and in which when you read about the events the events of everyday life they are extraordinarily compelling. There is a more sociological thread: Italy in the years of the boom, the dream of prosperity that reckons with ancient enmities .
Yes, and that thread runs through to the present. But I reduced the historical background to a minimum. I favor everything to be inscribed in the actions of the characters, both external and internal. Lila, for example, already at the age of seven or eight, wants to become rich, and drags Elena along, persuades her that wealth is an urgent objective. How this intention works inside the two friends; how its modified, how it guides or confuses them, interests me more than standard sociology. You seldom yield to dialectal colouring: “youre using” a few terms, but you usually favor the formula he/ she said in dialect. Were “youve never” tempted by a more expressionistic colouring ?
As a child, as an adolescent, the dialect of my city frightened me. I prefer to let it echo for a moment in the Italian, as if threatening it. Are the next instalments finished ?
Yes, in a very provisional state. An obvious but necessary question: how autobiographical is the story of Elena? And how much of your literary passions are in Elenas readings ?
If by autobiography you entail drawing on ones own experience to feed an invented tale, almost entirely. If instead youre asking whether Im telling my own personal tale , not at all. As for the books, yes, I always cite texts I love, characters who moulded me. For example, Dido, the Queen of Carthage, was a crucial female figure of my adolescence. Is video games of alliteration Elena Ferrante Elsa Morante ( a passion of yours) suggestive? Is any relationship of Ferrante to Ferri( your publishers) only imaginary ?
Yes, absolutely. Have “youve never” regretted choosing anonymity? Reviews tend to linger more on the mystery of Ferrante than on the qualities of the books. In other terms, have research results been the opposite of what you were hoping for, in emphasising your hypothetical personality ?
No, I have no sadness. As I see it, extracting the personality of the writer from the tale he offers, from the characters he sets onstage, from the landscapes, from the objects, from interviews like this in short, from the tonality of his writing wholly is simply a good way of reading. What “youre calling” emphasising, if its based on the works, on the energy of the words, is an honest emphasis. Whats very different is the medias emphasis, the predominance of the authors image over his run. In that case, the book functions like a pop superstars sweaty T-shirt, a garment that without the aura of the star is totally meaningless. Its these sorts of emphasis I dont like. Does the suspicion that your work is the product of several hands bother you ?
It seems a useful example for the conversation were having. We are accustomed to deriving a body of works consistency from the author , not the authors coherence from the run. That particular female or that particular man has written the books and that is enough for us to consider them elements of a journey. Well speak with assurance of the authors beginnings, of successful books and others that are less successful. Well say that he instantly discovered his way, that he has experimented with different genres and styles, well trace recurring themes, circumstances, an evolution or an involution. Lets say instead that we have available House of Liars and Aracoeli , but not a writer named Elsa Morante. We are so unused to starting from the works, to attempting in them consistency or difference, that were immediately confounded. Accustomed to the supremacy of the author, we end up, when the author isnt there, or is removed, watching different hands not only in the development from one volume to the next but even from one page to the next.
So will you tell us who you are?
Elena Ferrante. Ive published six books in 20 years. Isnt that sufficient?
Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein, is published by Europa Editions( 16.99 ). Click here to buy it for 13.93
Elena Ferrante: a life in novels
Troubling Love ( 1992 )
Ferrantes debut novel follows Delia, who seeks to uncover the truth about their own families secret past in Naples after her moms demise. The New York Times wrote: The fury, tormented voice of the author is something rare. In 1995 the book was turned into a film by Mario Martone and screened in competition at Cannes. The Day of Abandonment ( 2002 )
Published a decade subsequently, Ferrantes follow-up tells the story of Olga, a woman who is abandoned by her husband and left with their two children. Meghan ORourke in the Guardian wrote that the book has a mythic quality, reminiscent, from time to time, of Sylvia Plaths image-drenched poems. The Lost Daughter ( 2006 )
The novella, about a divorced academic who sees herself morbidly drawn to a family she sees on the beach, prefigures many of the themes of the Neapolitan novels, including female relationships, motherhood and class. The Boston Globe wrote: This piercing novel is not so easily dislodged from the memory. My Brilliant Friend ( 2011 )
The first instalment of Ferrantes Neapolitan novels introduces us to Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco, two girls who live in a deprived neighborhood of Naples. Publisher Adam Freudenheim wrote in the Guardian : These feminist novels are the best modern portrait of a female friendship Ive come across in literature. The Story of a New Name ( 2012 )
Lila and Elena grow up in increasingly different social realms, against a background of the culture and economic divide between northern and southern Italy. The New Yorker described the book as artfully written and absorbing. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay ( 2013 )
Although Elena becomes geographically and emotionally remote from Lila and Naples, the link between them remains present. In her New York Times review, Amy Rowland wrote: Nothing you read about Elena Ferrantes run prepares you for the ferocity of it. And with each new fiction in her revelatory Neapolitan series, she unprepares you all over again.
The Story of the Lost Child ( 2014 )
The final part of the quartet completes the double Bildungsroman which has spanned the best part of 60 years. Alex Clark in the Guardian wrote: I am not sure I have a read a more frightening account of friendship, or a more unsentimental opinion of the uses that human being have for one another, even in the presence of reciprocal attachment.
Read more: www.theguardian.com