The Neapolitan Novels is a 4-part series by the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein and published by Europa Editions (New York). They include the texts: My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015). The series has been characterized as a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story. In an interview for the Harper's Magazine, Elena Ferrante stated that she considers the four books to be ""a single novel", published serially for reasons of length and duration.
The series follows the lives of two perceptive and intelligent girls, Elena (sometimes called “Lenù”) Greco and Raffaella (“Lila”) Cerullo, from childhood to adulthood as they try to create lives for themselves amidst the violent and stultifying culture of their home– a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Italy. The novels are narrated by Elena Greco.
It has been reported that a 32-part television series ‘’The Neapolitan Novels’’ is in the works and will be co-produced by the Italian producer Wildside for Fandango Productions, with screenwriting led by the writer Francesco Piccolo.
The Neapolitan Novels begin in 2010 when the son of an old friend telephones the main character, a firm woman in her 60s called Elena. Her childhood friend Lila has disappeared and her son is unable to find any trace of her. Elena recognizes this as something Lila in her later years has always talked about doing, believing her disappearance to be a conscious action. In spirit of their spiteful ways towards each other Elena begins to put on paper everything she can remember about her, beginning in 1950s Naples.
Elena and Lila grow up in a poor neighborhood full of violence and strife with no one expecting them of going anywhere past elementary school in terms of education. Elena is diligent and captures the concern of one of the teachers. The bigger surprise is Lila though, who despite being a very troublesome girl is an unprecedented learner. Seemingly without even trying to she learns to read better than anyone else in a much shorter time. Elena is both fascinated and intimidated by her peer. She begins to push herself to keep up with Lila. For example when Lila throws Elena's doll into a basement chute, Elena does the same to Lila's doll. When Lila goes to ask for them back from the local leader of the Camorra, Elena follows her though they are ultimately unable to retrieve them. The path of the two girls is split when Lila's parents refuse to pay for her to continue her schooling while Elena's, after much pressure from the concerned teacher, agree.
With Elena studying, Lila occupies herself with her father's shoe shop. Much to his irritation she dreams of designing new types of shoes to make them rich. In parallel, she grows very beautiful, attracting most of the neighborhood's young men, including the powerful young son of the local Camorra leader. Considering him fundamentally evil, despite her family's pressure to marry such a rich man, Lila gets the owner of the local grocery, Stefano, to ask her to marry him instead. Sweetening the deal by agreeing to finance Lila's shoe project, Lila's family eventually agree to let her marry Stefano. At the wedding Lila realizes that Stefano has close ties to the Camorra himself and rebels. In turn, as is expected of a man in the neighborhood, he beats Lila. On their honeymoon, he rapes her. Meanwhile, the Camorra gradually take over the increasingly lucrative shoe project.
As Lila in different ways continues to rebel, both her old and new family worry more about her not having become pregnant yet. Her doctor blames it on stress and prescribes a vacation. Lila, desperate to not be alone with her mother and sister-in-law, talks Elena, who is meanwhile still continuing to do very well at school and has fallen in love with an older boy called Nino Sarratore, into coming with her. Elena agrees knowing she will be able to see Nino vacationing nearby. Soon enough Elena and Lila are increasingly spending their days with Nino. Surprisingly it is Lila and Nino who fall in love with each other and begin an affair, even using Elena as their common confidante. The passionate affair ends as suddenly as it began, though Lila ends up leaving her husband and is forced into a difficult working class life with her one son.
Largely disenchanted with the neighborhood, Elena departs to study at a university in Pisa where she eventually meets Pietro Aiotra who is an awkward, dry, but kind and proper intellectual from an important family. She marries him while a book Elena almost accidentally writes is accepted for publication and sells great numbers. Trying to balance her new life as a housewife and successful writer, she stumbles upon hypocrisies in many of the ideologies that are shaking the late 60s and 70s of cultural Italy. The upper class environment is in many ways depicted as being as opportunistic and tumultuous as her own neighborhood. Perhaps most strikingly, despite writing important feminist texts herself, she is seemingly only able to leave her increasingly boring husband after he is humiliated by Lila's ex Nino Sarratore who has since gone on to become a controversial, but well-respected intellectual of some renown, whom she leaves with.
After with much difficulty accepting that Nino systematically cheats on women, keeping several families at the same time and not even acknowledging some of his children, Elena begrudgingly, with now three children, moves into an apartment just a few floors over her old friend Lila who, previously learning computers in the 70s after being rescued from a mortadella factory with gruesome working conditions by Elena, has become a highly successful business woman and computer technician. Many see her as a kind of opposing faction to the local Camorra, taking as many of the people she grew up with under her wing as she can and trying to make their life better piece by piece, person by person as opposed to the ideologists Elena is now familiar with. Though often reading the same competitiveness into Lila that Elena herself is driven by, after an enormous earthquake, she comes to realize how truly different they are. While Elena herself is in harmony with the wild nature of the universe, Lila is desperate to tame and control it.
In a final attempt at putting the local Camorra into prison, Elena and Lila try to publicize some of their crimes by writing about them for a newspaper. They drift apart in the aftermath as Lila is allegedly disappointed by how powerless even a famous writer is against them. Not long after Lila's youngest child, a daughter who by chance has the same nickname as Elena's doll that Lila threw into a basement chute when they were children, disappears. The Camorra are seemingly not to blame and even participate in the search. Elena and Lila continue to be increasingly alienated from each other as Lila despairs about her lost daughter. Before Elena, by then an even more famous writer, moves out of her childhood's neighborhood for the last time, Lila becomes obsessed with the history of Naples and the cyclical nature of human life. In recognition of the seeming insignificance of it all, it somehow makes sense for her that it should be desirable to disappear without a trace as difficult as it is constantly becoming in the new computer age. Decades pass, though they stay in touch, and Elena finally writes a small novel about their friendship. Lila shuts Elena out of her life. Later, catching up to the start of the book, Lila is still yet to be found with no new traces of her. One day Elena receives the two dolls that they lost when they were children in the mail. The meaning of this is ambiguous.
Central themes in the novels include women’s friendship and the shaping of women’s lives by their social milieu, sexual and intellectual jealousy and competition within female friendships, female ambivalence about filial and maternal roles, the ascent of intelligent children out of violent domestic and social environments, class conflict, the role of literature and the social responsibility of the writer amidst social upheaval and within protest movements, the changing conditions of women in the 1970s, early computerization, and the Italian factory strikes of the 1970s.
- My Brilliant Friend: Longlist of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
- The Story of the Lost Child: nominated for the Strega Prize, an Italian literary award.
The Greco family
- Elena (“Lenù”) Greco
- Peppe, Gianni, and Elisa Greco (Elena's younger siblings)
The Cerullo family
- Raffaella (“Lila”) Cerullo
- Rino Cerullo (Lila's older brother)
- Nunzia Cerullo (Lila's mother)
- Fernando Cerullo (Lila's father)
- Donato Sarratore
- Lidia Sarratore (wife of Donato)
- Nino Sarratore
- Marisa Sarratore (sister of Nino)
- Pino, Clelia, and Ciro Sarratore (younger children)
- Silvio Solara
- Manuela Solara
- Marcello Solara
- Michele Solara
- L'amica geniale (2011; English translation: My Brilliant Friend, 2012). OCLC 778419313.
- Storia del nuovo cognome, L'amica geniale volume 2 (2012; English translation: The Story of a New Name, 2013). OCLC 829451619.
- Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta, L'amica geniale volume 3 (2013; English translation: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, 2014). OCLC 870919836.
- Storia della bambina perduta, L'amica geniale volume 4 (2014; English translation: The Story of the Lost Child, 2015). OCLC 910239891.
- Ahmed, Fatema (April 28, 2015). "Taking off the mask: Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels". The New Humanist. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
- Jenny Turner, "The Secret Sharer. Elena Ferrante's existential fiction", Harper's Magazine, October 2014.
- Wood, James (January 21, 2013). "Women on the Verge" The fiction of Elena Ferrante". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
- Moylan, Brian (February 9, 2016). "Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels set for TV adaptation". The Guardian.
- O'Rourke, Meghan (October 31, 2014). "Elena Ferrante: the global literary sensation nobody knows". The Guardian. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
- Fischer, Molly (September 4, 2014). "Elena Ferrante and the Force of Female Friendships". The New Yorker.
- "My Brilliant Friend". International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
- Luzzi, Joseph (September 27, 2013). "It Started in Naples: Elena Ferrante's 'Story of a New Name'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
- “Elena Ferrante, Art of Fiction No. 228.” Interviewed by Sandro and Sandra Ferri. The Paris Review. Spring 2015. No. 212.