I really tried with this one. This story should work for me. Check out this Goodreads summary:
“The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.”
But I just couldn’t get into the book. I didn’t develop any concern for the characters and found it dull and repetitive – it felt like watching the same cycle over and over again without having it actually GO anywhere. Ferrante seems to cheerfully tell and not show, abandon all sensible plot structure (I found the writing, or translation, incredibly choppy) and introduce as many characters as she felt like, not really caring whether that whole sprawling cast is in any way necessary or useful. Ferrante hits an autobiographical note that has many people wondering about the identity of Ferrante as it is at least a nom de plume, and some of these attributes line up with that possibility. The stories we tell each other over dinner rattle around and give us too many details and too many side characters. It didn’t work for me in this novel.
Add to the above a lack of flourishes: Ferrante’s prose is bare, the narrative slumps along under its own weight and the craft does little to propel it, and I found myself only reluctantly picking it back up again each time I put it down. It has taken me months to get through it. It seems I just don’t get the hype and by the end was angry at the story for being overlong.
I’m glad this works for others (my lovely friend Ale for example who I’m sure will use her MFA to disagree with me here), but this one wasn’t for me, or at least wasn’t for me right now.