The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante

How do I say this? Quickly, I guess – I didn’t really like this book.

It is the second book in Neapolitan series, I read it right after ‘My Brilliant Friend‘ and while I was in Naples. Maybe that was part of the problem, that I was travelling and couldn’t devote as much time to this book as it needs. It tells the story of the friendship between Lenu and Lila, from Lila’s wedding to Lenu’s graduation. After finishing this book I had to take a break from Ferrante for a while and I only just started the third book last weekend.

This book got me tired. It was very emotional, Lila was getting more and more unstable, waging war on her husband and also being cruel to Lenu, who is busy with her studies.

When Lenu is not studying they meet, their relationship is still quite close but it becomes more and more toxic. Lenu is still very dependent on Lila, her judgement, the comparison between them. Lila is on one hand pitiful because of her situation on the other she goes out of her way either to hurt Lenu, anyone else around her or herself. At the same time she supports Lenu in her studies, buying her books and letting her study at her new apartment. But she also manipulates her, makes her serve her purpose, no matter what cost. There is no reasoning with Lila, it seems like there is a force within her that has a reason of its own and listens to no one else, so Lenu can either help or leave her alone and she tries both.

I felt chained to an intolerable pact of friendship. How tortuous everything was. It was I who dragged Lila to Ischia. I had used her to pursue Nino, hopelessly. […] I has put myself in her service and now I was playing the role of the servant who comes to the aid of her mistress.

It is also a book about the past, a bit like in The Shore, the neighbourhood doesn’t seem to change, habits last, past and the parents are never far away and always ready to reoccur in their children who thought they are so different.

Is it possible that our parents never die, that every child inevitably conceals them in himself? Would my mother truly emerge from me, with her limping gait, as my destiny?

Violence is present on every level, physical, verbal, towards women, children anyone who is weaker. Violence ascertains power. For Lenu even the dialect itself is violent in its root, is a language devoid of love. Used to hurt, abuse, shout, attack, not to talk and discuss ideas.

But toward Stefano, now, she showed no explicit aggression. Of course, the explanation was simple: we had seen our fathers beat our mothers from childhood. We had grown up thinking that a stranger must not even touch us, but that our father, our boyfriend, and out husband could hit us when they liked, out of love, to educate us, to re-educate us.

The words, the language itself is a very important thing in the story, decision to speak Italian or speak in dialect and switch between the two describes people. Also for Lenu words, books and writing are extremely important, a form of expression, but also a way to gain knowledge and finally be equal to people she admires.

I didn’t like this book, because there was too much drama. My patience is limited and if my friend treated me the way Lila treated Lenu we wouldn’t be friends for long. I just simply lost patience for Lila being unstable and Lenu forgiving her every time, even if at times she cooled the relationship significantly. For me Lenu is a bit like a beaten dog, which always crawls back to the cruel owner. I just couldn’t understand how this relationship worked for Lenu.

I understood that I had arrived there full of pride and realized that – in good faith, certainly, with affection – I had made that whole journey mainly to show her what she had lost and what I had won. But she had known from the moment I appeared, and now risking tensions with her workmates, and fines, she was explaining to me that I had won nothing, that in the world there is nothing to win, that her life was full of varied and foolish adventures as much as mine, and that time simply slipped away without any meaning, and it was good just to see each other every so often to hear the mad sound of the brain of one echo in the mad sounds of the brain of the other.

On a positive note, after few books of break I read the third part of the series in one day and I loved it. More on that soon.

 Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

7 thoughts on “The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante

    1. It’s a weird series, I liked the first book, didn’t like the second, loved the third and I’m now readong the fourth and I like it a lot. So it may be down to me reading the second book without focus with too many interruptions. Still I find the relationship in the second book toxic.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true Lila was an interestong character, it was just Lenu’s lack of backbone that I found annoying. I felt like shouting at her ‘Stand up for yourself!’. Which is probably why I liked the third book more, their relationship was a bit more balanced.

      Liked by 1 person

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