Story of a New Name (Ferrante)

The Story of a New Name (Neapolitan Novels 2)
Elena Ferrante, 2012 (trans., 2013)
Europa Editions
480 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781609451349

The second book following My Brilliant Friend and featuring the two friends Lila and Elena.

The two protagonists are now in their twenties. Marriage appears to have imprisoned Lila. Meanwhile, Elena continues her journey of self-discovery.

The two young women share a complex and evolving bond that brings them close at times, and drives them apart at others. Each vacillates between hurtful disregard and profound love for the other.

With this complicated and meticulously portrayed friendship at the center of their emotional lives, the two girls mature into women, paying the cruel price that this passage exacts. (From the publisher.)

Books in the series
My Brilliant Friend (2011) is the first of Ferrante's four Neapolitan Novels. This book is the second, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2013) is the third, and The Story of a Lost Child (2014) is the last.

Author Bio
Elena Ferrante is the pen-name of an Italian novelist whose true identity is not publicly known. Though heralded as the most important Italian novelist of her generation, she has kept her identity secret since the publication of her first novel in 1992.

Ferrante is the author of a half dozen novels, the most well-known of which is Days of Abandonment. Her four "Neapolitan Novels" revolve around two perceptive and intelligent girls from Naples who try to create lives for themselves within a violent and stultifying culture. The series consists of four novels: 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), which was nominated for the Strega Prize, an Italian literary award.

Two of Ferrante's novels have been turned into films by Italian filmmakers. Troubling Love became the 1995 feature film Nasty Love, and The Days of Abandonment became a 2005 film of the same title.

Her nonfiction book Fragments (2003) discussion her experiences as a writer.

In a January 21, 2013, article in The New Yorker, James Woods wrote that Ferrante has said, "books, once they are written, have no need of their authors." Perhaps that is one reason for her pen-name.

Speculation about Ferrante's identity is rife. In the same New Yorker article, Woods also wrote:

In the past twenty years or so, though, she has provided written answers to journalists’ questions, and a number of her letters have been collected and published. From them, we learn that she grew up in Naples, and has lived for periods outside Italy. She has a classics degree; she has referred to being a mother. One could also infer from her fiction and from her interviews that she is not now married. (“Over the years, I’ve moved often, in general unwillingly, out of necessity. . . . I’m no longer dependent on the movements of others, only on my own” is her encryption.) In addition to writing, “I study, I translate, I teach. (Author bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/11/2015.)

Book Reviews
Every so often you encounter an author so unusual it takes a while to make sense of her voice. The challenge is greater still when this writer's freshness has nothing to do with fashion, when it's imbued with the most haunting music of all, the echoes of literary history. Elena Ferrante is this rare bird: so deliberate in building up her story that you almost give up on it, so gifted that by the end she has you in tears.... As a translator, Ann Goldstein does Ferrante a great service. Like the original Italian, the English here is disciplined, precise, never calling attention to itself.... Ferrante's gift for recreating real life stems as much from the quiet, unhurried rhythm of her writing as from the people and events she describes. The translation reproduces Ferrante's narrative ebb and flow while registering the distinct features of her voice.
Joseph Luzzi - New York Times Book Review

The through-line in all of Ferrante’s investigations, for me, is nothing less than one long, mind-and-heart-shredding howl for the history of women (not only Neapolitan women), and its implicit j’accuse.... Ferrante’s effect, critics agree, is inarguable. (From a 2013  review of The Story of a New Name.)
Joan Fran - San Francisco Chronicle

Elena Greco and her "brilliant friend" Lina Cerullo...enter the tumultuous world of young womanhood with all its accompanying love, loss, and confusion.... Ferrante masterfully combines Elena's recollections of events with Lila's point of view.... [P]oignant.
Publishers Weekly

[A] beautifully written portrait of a sometimes difficult friendship....[and] a study in the possibility of triumph over disappointment.... [T]his second book closes with [Elana] embarking on what promises to be a brilliant literary career and with the hint that true love may not be far behind. Admirers of Ferrante's work will eagerly await the third volume.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions

1. Early in The Story of a New Name, we learn that Elena threw Lila’s notebooks into the river, destroying all of Elena’s writing, which allowed her to elevate her own writing. To what extent—if any—has Elena’s success been at the expense of Lila’s?

2. Even before Lila and Stefano separate, Nunzia expresses regret that Lila married so young, when in fact, Nunzia, Fernando, and Rino pushed Lila into her marriage. What role does family play in Lila’s and Elena’s lives? In what way can Nunzia’s servitude at Ischia be seen as penance for crippling her daughter’s ambitions?

3. Out of all of the men Lila could have fallen in love with, why does she choose Nino? Are her intentions malicious? Or does her choice reflect a desire for a new kind of life? Is a new kind of life possible for her?

4. One gets the impression that the bond between Lila and Elena is stronger than any marriage. Why is that? Why can they be close to each other in a way they can’t be close to their spouses?

5. In Ferrante’s work, violence and the threat of violence are so omnipresent that they are almost characters in themselves. How does Ferrante show cultural violence reinforcing organizational violence (e.g. the mafia and camorra), and vice versa?

6. As Elena soon realizes, Lila’s “art project” at the shoe store is an act of self-destruction. In what other ways does Lila engage in self-destruction? Is her insistence on wearing fine clothing also a way of effacing herself? Is the same true of her retreat into motherhood? Why does Lila want to be erased?

7. How might Lila’s life have been different if she had not been beautiful and had grown into her beauty the way that Elena did? Would it have been any different?

8. When Elena loses faith that the university will ever give her the social mobility she desires, she explains how not everyone at the university is so despondent about their futures. She says, [Those who are not despondent] were youths—almost all male . . . who excelled because they knew, without apparent effort, the present and the future use of the labor of studying. They knew because of the families they came from . . .” (403). Is Elena right that she will never really be able to rise about the class in which she was born? Why or why not?

9. We learn from Elena that she practically failed her university exam only to discover that she passed with marks high enough to receive a scholarship. In what other ways is Elena an unreliable narrator? Can the reader trust her portrayal of Lila?

10. How might the Neapolitan novels have been different if Lila had authored them rather than Elena? How would she have described her friend?

11. When Elena returns home from school, she has trouble communicating with her mother. She says, “Language itself, in fact, had become a mark of alienation. I expressed myself in a way that was too complex for her, although I made an effort to speak in dialect, and when I realized that and simplified the sentences, the simplification made them unnatural and therefore confusing” (437). What is the role of language in The Story of a New Name? How does language underline the girls’ complex ties to the community in which they were born?

12. In My Brilliant Friend, Elena and Lila adore Little Women. And again, the novel comes up in The Story of a New Name. In what ways do Elena and Lila’s lives differ from or resemble those of the March sisters? What is Ferrante trying to tell us in making this comparison?

13. Elena and Lila began life in the same neighborhood, going to the same school, but by the end of the book, their lives have diverged. Why is this? Is Lila debilitated by her superior intelligence? Is she too combative to be accepted? Or is Elena merely luckier than Lila? What qualities have allowed Elena to succeed?

14. Many have referred to the Neapolitan Novels as poignant portrayals of female friendship, which surely they are. But in what ways do the experiences of Elena and Lila extend beyond the female condition and speak to the human condition, albeit in a voice that just happens to be female?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)


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