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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Day of Abandonment: Stopping reading the Neapolitan novels

I've really tried to like Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels - I like many novels of this type, a series of memoir-like novels based on the writer's close personal reflection on his or her life - as I have noted in many previous posts: notably, Proust, Knausgaard, Anthony Powell. So why not Ferrante? And it's not that I am more attuned to male authors, although no doubt that's true. I read all of vol one and now 1/3 of vol two, The Story of a New Name, and although vol 2 showed promise, rising to literary levels in a few scenes such as the sexual encounters between Lena and Antonio and the much more violent encounter between Lila and Stefano on their wedding night - both brutal and crude and short, and a real insight into sexual predation from the woman's POV - overall the writing is flat as a board, totally pedestrian. One even after another will almost no establishment of a sense of place, of voice; very little reflection by the mature narrator looking back on her youth. Although a lot happens to the characters there is little character development - and none of the characters emerges clearly other than the two central figures, whose names annoyingly are almost identical. More than one volume in - and I still find myself asking, wait, who was this character? The baker? The grocery-store owner? The shoemaker? The communist? And so on. People say that you "get to know the characters" - I'm just trying to keep them straight and learn their names! M has said the volume really picks up when Lena goes to Ischia - scenes of a romantic brush and a sexual assault in volume 1 - but honestly I can't get there, it's been a slog and I'm not willing to continue. The journey just can't be worth the payoff.

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