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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Ferrante and the mult-volume fiction-memoir - how does she measure up?

Though I had many reservations about Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend I have moved along to the 2nd volume of Ferrante's memoir-novel series, The Story of A New Name - as readers of these posts will know I have a weakness for multi-volume memoir novels, including Proust, Powell, Knausgaard - now good to read one presumably) by a female novelist. Stepping into volume 2 it is still maddeningly difficult to keep the many family names and occupations straight, but of thankfully this volume, so far, feels somewhat more focused on the two lead characters, primary narrator and generally presumed authorial stand-in Lena and her "brilliant friend" (whom I believe actually to be the authorial stand-in) Lily (violation of a cardinal rule of fiction composition, two lead characters w/ same initial letter). Much of the first 10 or so chapters concerns the episode that closed out volume 1, the appearance at the Lily-Stephano wedding of a rival character wearing the pair of shoes that Lily had designed - an episode of great symbolic significance (and also an echo of the Red Shoes of the Duchess passage in Proust?), showing that Stephano has caved in to the power of another clan and that he will betray Lily's trust. It feels as if Ferrante, however, makes too much out of this episode - in fact, I think she should have concluded the episode in volume one about begun this volume once she's cleared the air (probably starting at chapter 6). That said, the writing in this volume is more descriptive and nuanced - the two rather crude and brutal sex scenes in the first few chapters - Lena and Antonio after Lily's wedding, and Lily and Stephano on the first night of their honeymoon - are far more detailed and powerful than any of the writing in volume one, and each shows the cruelty of the men, the perverse power relationships that the women have to accommodate themselves to - at least until they break free from the enslavement of male-dominance and marriage - and they examine the force of female desire (and repulsion). More of this writing will lift this volume to a higher level, I hope, and it appears that this volume will focus on the the parallel relationships of the 2 friends and less on establishing all of the alliances and conflicts among the many neighborhood clans. A further note: I found the first chapter hard to fathom - Lily entrusting Lena with a large packet of her writings and drawings, Lena pledging not to read them, but she does read them almost immediately (and gives a long and boring description of what they contain - we'd rather read these notebooks ourselves, which maybe we are?), and then she tosses them in river (an echo of a key scene in A Dance to the Music of Time?), which is incredibly mean and hard to imagine her doing under any circumstances.

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