Reading Europe: ITALY

It’s day five of our tour around the literary landscape of Europe, and we’ve landed in Italy. Kerry Hadley has an obsession with Elena Ferrante, and she’s going to tell us why.


elena ferrante

Elena Ferrante’s home city of Naples


Kerry HadleyI was talking to a friend recently, about books, poetry, all that stuff. ‘Have you read Ferrante?’ he said. ‘I recommend.’

Have I read Ferrante? Yes. I’m obsessed with her.

And it’s as much about her: ‘Elena Ferrante’, as her writing, to be honest.

Rumour has it that Ferrante is actually Domenico Starnone, a seventy-three year old male writer and journalist. Whoever she is, she does not do publicity, believing, of books: ‘Once they are written, have no need of their authors’ and vowing only to be interviewed in writing.

And, see, it’s that, the self-preservation, the intensity, the sharp tearing off of the layers of things, that can make you get obsessed with her.

Elena Ferrante

Translated by Ann Goldstein

In The Days of Abandonment, Olga, given the thunderbolt announcement that her husband is leaving her, launches into a tirade of violent emotions, but more than that, struggles to keep a grip, fearful of a diminishment of her self.

It’s the sharply focused misery that’s so impressive – it seems limitless. And that is the thing with some translated novels, isn’t it? The way the ‘otherness’ of the voice still manages to seep through. Ferrante’s voice seems to push this even further though, especially her fearlessness when explaining motherhood. Listen to this: ‘I was like a lump of food that my children chewed without stopping; a cud made of living material.’ See. There’s a pretty nasty brilliance, isn’t there, about that sort of prose?

Whoever, Ferrante is, it doesn’t matter, really, because it’s about the way in which she writes everyday, ordinary life, then interrogates it, grasps the intricacies of it, then makes it into something that you not only want to read, but totally get.

Have you read Ferrante? I recommend.


We’ll be featuring a different country most days this month, so do come back and find out more. And why not let us know about your favourite European author? Leave a comment below or share with us on Twitter, and you might be in the special ‘Our readers recommend’ post at the end of the series.


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