The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

In brief: The second in the Neapolitan quartet, following the friendship of Lila and Elena. Lila has just got married and Elena is in her final years of high school.

The good: This series is a like a drug, it’s addictive and you can’t tear yourself away from it.

The not-so-good: See above – don’t expect productivity while you’re reading this!

Why I chose it: I caught Ferrante Fever with My Brilliant Friend.

Year: 2012 (Italian), 2013 (English)

Pages: 471

Translator: Ann Goldstein from the Italian

Publisher: Text Publishing

Setting: Italy (mainly Naples)

My rating: 10 out of 10

OMG. Mamma mia. How does one explain the fascination that is the Neapolitan Quartet? Is it Harry Potter for grownups? Actually, that’s not quite right – no magic being done here, but as a reader you can’t help but get sucked into the world of 1960s Naples that Elena and Lila inhibit. With the second book in the series, as the girls grow older, the bare truths of life in the neighbourhood are laid before them. They thought they knew it all in My Brilliant Friend, but…no. As Elena (Lenu) begins to break away from the neighbourhood, Lila finds herself more and more wrapped up in it.

Please note that my review will contain spoilers, so just go and start reading!

The Story of a New Name starts at Lila and Stefano’s wedding and this is where it all starts to go wrong for Lila. Marcello Solara rocks up wearing the shoes she and Rino had made and Lila explodes – what has happened to Stefano’s love? While Stefano tries to explain it’s a matter of business, not love, Lila isn’t convinced and tells him to get out. This is the prelude to a number of beatings for Lila – just as it happened to their parents, it’s happening to her. The cycle isn’t broken, it just continues. Lila tries throwing herself into work at the new grocery, but rumours abound as to why she’s not getting pregnant. After a miscarriage, Lila is prescribed a holiday by the sea. She bribes Lenu into quitting her summer job, but Lenu has her own ulterior motive – to see Nino Sarratore.

Poor Lenu. She tries so hard to do the right thing, in contrast to Lila who delights in doing the wrong and unexpected. But everything backfires when Lila and Nino fall into a passionate relationship. Lenu is left with the sausage factor heir and being the cover-up for the pair. Meanwhile, she continues studying, reaching heights that nobody in the neighbourhood has seen. As she departs for university in Pisa, she shuts the door on her decaying friendship with Lila. It seems like the only time Lenu can truly be herself is when she’s free of Lila, yet Lila is always there in the background as Lenu compares herself to her continually. While Lenu achieves great success with her studies and writing, Lila’s world crumbles beyond the lowest of the neighbourhood. At the start, Lila had everything but at the end of the novel, she has nothing. I have no doubt that Lila will rise again, but how? And how will she use Lenu to do so?

The Story of a New Name as a title reflects Lila’s loss of her surname – she’s no longer a Cerullo, but a Carracci. With that, she loses her independence and so many opportunities. But this is Lila we’re talking about. She’s feisty and crafty – by her early twenties, she’s already ridden more highs and lows than most can expect in their lifetime. In this book, her relationship with Lenu borders on the toxic – she uses her unashamedly, but also supports her studies, buying books and forcing Lenu to study. It’s such a complex relationship, which I think makes it all the more addictive for the reader – what can possibly happen next?

Elena Ferrante doesn’t hold back with anything in this novel – it’s brutal, raw and exposed whether it be Stefano beating Lila or Lenu’s use of her new boyfriend for new clothes and glasses. It’s not a book to be known for its subtlety – everything is thrust in the reader’s face. The closest you get to symbolism is Lila’s destruction of her wedding photo in the shoe shop – erasing the bride, which is then heralded as high art. But the ending is even more powerful than the first book. It ends on such a teetering cliff hanger that I couldn’t help but read the first chapter of book 3 straightaway. It doesn’t look like the girls will be spared heartache next time round, but I’m so looking forward to reading it!

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