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The Story of a New Name (2012)

by Elena Ferrante

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Neapolitan Novels (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,6031194,245 (4.23)171
The second book, following last year's My Brilliant Friend, 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.… (more)

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English (97)  German (6)  Dutch (3)  Italian (3)  Spanish (2)  Swedish (2)  Catalan (2)  French (2)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (118)
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
My favorite chunk is the last third of the book. It really took until then for it to be a page turner. I think the strongest part for me is the description of Lena getting to college and getting a bit of perspective on the wider world beyond the slum she grew up in.
This character see her own desire to please and be found smart/significant. She describes with self criticism her unwillingness to ask for what she want, but rather to pretend she didn't want it after all if she can't get it. I recognize that pattern and the self criticism as well.
I wonder if I'll like the third book better. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
These books. Just overwhelmingly good. On to the next one! ( )
  CaitlinMcC | Jul 11, 2021 |
Continuing from #1 (My Brilliant Friend), Ferrante keeps on doing what she does so well. Rich, emotional, vivid, tragic, complex. Looking forward to embarking on #3, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. ( )
  JulieStielstra | May 17, 2021 |
I've read that Ferrante split the single Neapolitan Novels story into four volumes for publishing reasons, but it's perfect that the reader gets dropped right back in, because the intensity of the story hasn't let up a bit. My current summary of what the books are "about", which is a silly way to box in such a fearless and expansive creation, is the power of choices in life. Well, it's also about the futility of completely excising memories, what happens when people try to create new lives for themselves, the problems of love that come with adulthood, the importance of small decisions that you're often unaware you've made, the strengths and limits of education as a way to improve your life, how hard it is to see yourself as a full and complete person, the difference between how you see things and others see things, and, of course, Elena's ever-more complex relationship with Lila, her best friend and chief spiritual rival, which has gotten both richer and more distant as their lives diverge.

How simple the problems of literary characters are! He's no good for her; she's obviously got a crush on him but is too embarrassed to say so; they're trapped in a bad relationship and need to end it; why don't those two just forgive each other and move on; he's taking out his jealousy of his friend's success on someone else; why doesn't that idiot just make a move on her! All of these everyday scenarios are trivial to diagnose and resolve when laid out so plainly, but in real life there are infinite shades of complexity on everything, and the simplest of dilemmas becomes subject to all kinds of agonizing decision-making. Furthermore, real people often make decisions, even large ones, for what in hindsight are incredibly stupid reasons, and so it's a challenge for fiction writers to present the realities of people negotiating their way through life without either trivializing their characters' struggles or descending into melodrama. Ferrante provides one of the most realistic portrayals of the agonies of choice in contemporary fiction I've read.

At the end of first book, Lila was about to get married, and so the second opens almost straight away with the reception. While marriage is always a big step for anyone, Lila's decision to marry the grocer Stefano was especially momentous for both; perhaps the most clear symbol yet of the different paths they're destined to travel on. For Lila, she saw it as an unpleasant but convenient way to climb out of the grinding poverty of the neighborhood. For Elena, her friend's marriage was both a misstep, a waste of the talents that made her so attractive and yet so jealousy-inspiring, and also a ladder into the safe, respectable, normal path that everyone was supposed to follow. From one perspective Lila's decision seems simple: don't marry someone you don't love. Yet in the real world, people often don't have the luxury of waiting around, and marriage for love is disturbingly often not a real option, especially for women expected to marry in what would be our late high school/early college post-adolescent age. The honeymoon scene is very uncomfortable to read for how it presents Lila's unpleasant realization of exactly what she's signed up for: a life as the typical 1960s Italian wife, under the complete control of her husband physically, emotionally, and sexually.

I don't want to just simply recap the plot, but it's so riveting to watch Elena and Lila struggle with the effects of their life choices that the details are worth savoring. Elena struggles to escape neighborhood fixture Antonio, the emotionally troubled dullard who she doesn't love, in order to pursue her secret crush Nino, the brilliant university student who she does. But of course there are complications from an unexpected source: a vacation that's supposed to give Elena a chance to get Nino to see her and desire her goes terribly wrong, as the love triangle between Elena, Lila, and Nino is every bit as tawdry, scandalous, and moving as you could want. Elena leaves the neighborhood to go study, get in other relationships, write books, and pursue a new life, but the promise and upward trajectory of her life is vividly contrasted with Lila's, whose failed marriage and adulterous pregnancy leave her trapped in an ever-smaller world that's reduced to a run-down apartment and brutal, demeaning factory job by the novel's end. The tight spiderweb of connections around these characters - Carraccis, Sarratores, and Solaras - begins to loosen a bit, but ultimately neither of them can really escape where they're from.

Lila's life on the surface more resembles a telenovela character, with her wild swings between her domestic unhappiness and attempts to escape via the love of another man. However, it's perhaps Elena, who always seem to be on the cusp of beginning her life while never quite "getting there", whose life is more moving. That isn't just because she's the main character either; this volume has a loose frame narrative where Elena reads Lila's notebooks to understand what happened in her life while Elena was off at university. It's an effective way to present Lila's inner feelings, since she spends the vast majority of the story as a canvas for Elena to project her own worries, doubts, and jealousies onto. Lila is presented as a power unto herself, a willful woman who won't settle, and the true source of Elena's success, but those notebooks help reveal the almost total disconnect between Elena's often-self-pitying image of herself and how Lila actually sees her. For example, early in the volume Elena invites Lila to a party, where she hopes to have intellectual conversation with Nino. That simple act of inviting her best friend to a party not only causes a rift between the two, and leads directly to the love triangle, but a passing comment by the son of the host, Elena's high school teacher, reveals to Elena that the rest of the world sees her much differently than she does herself:

"He was absolutely the first person to show me in a practical sense how comfortable it is to arrive in a strange, potentially hostile environment, and discover that you have been preceded by your reputation, that you don't have to do anything to be accepted, that your name is known, that everyone knows about you, and it's the others, the strangers, who must strive to win your favor and not you theirs. Used as I was to the absence of advantages, that unforeseen advantage gave me energy, an immediate self-confidence."

That self-confidence is something Elena never seems to fully absorb, no matter how many times she's been praised by Lila and everyone else. It would be easy for a bad writer to overdo Elena's perpetual vulnerability and make her seem inauthentic, but Ferrante ably shows the relationship between emotional insecurity and the life turmoil that it's intimately tied up with. Part of that is due to Ferrante's writing style, which is tremendously effective despite it being oddly unquotable, at least on the sentence level. It's direct, unadorned, and seemingly as straightforward as you can get, but so breathlessly paced that it gives the impression that she's writing it at top speed even when she's conveying the minute uncertainties and qualifications in her characters' thoughts. For example, at that same party, Elena is talking to Nino, and reveling at that unique sensation of being the only two people in the room at a party, sharing a secret and separate moment like the rest of the world has faded into a distant background:

"He felt strong if he took the lead and weak if he lacked words. He darkened, in fact he stopped me almost immediately. He sidetracked the conversation, he started talking about the Regions, about how urgent it was to get them approved, about autonomy and decentralization, about economic planning on a regional basis, all things I had never heard a word about.... And I liked to hear him talk, read the passion in his face. His eyes brightened when he was excited. We went on like that for at least an hour.

Isolated from the shouting around us, its coarse dialect, we felt exclusive, he and I alone, with our vigilant Italian, with those conversations that mattered to us and no one else. What were we doing? A discussion? Practicing for future confrontations with people who had learned to use words as we had? An exchange of signals to prove to ourselves that such words were the basis of a long and fruitful friendship? A cultivated screen for sexual desire? I don't know."

Not only is that a perfectly relatable scene, don't think that those seemingly throwaway thoughts won't be referred to later. No conversation means just one thing, and the way that all the implications of that party get unfolded out into the future at just the right pace mean that it's a rare reader who isn't eagerly turning to the next volume as soon as this one is finished. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
As I already said, I am going to finish the whole Neapolitan series before I attempt to write a review. But I wanted to note that I just realized that there are 4 books on this series and not 3 as I previous though. I am enthralled enough that I think I will finish the four books, but Elena Ferrante does need a better editor. Some passages are getting to be too long....

The review, finally:

Even if we don’t admit or try to deny it, we all have a difficult relationship with mirrors. As I age, I believe I have become more disdainful of it, less preoccupied with the reflection of myself, less worried that I don’t conform to some societal rules of beauty or femininity. Yet, if I don’t scrutinize the mirror as I once did in my teenage years – oh, those years when the mirror seemed to reflect so much of my perceived faults – these days the mirror surprises me. There are times when a fast glance shows not the person I perceive myself to be, but I get glimpses of my mother, my grandmothers, my sisters, or even my father in a nanosecond of time. A smile, a wrinkle, a stance… all remind me of others, what I have become or will become, and what I am no longer.

What if then the mirror was alive, an organic entity, that also changed as time went by? Would the mirror see in us its faults? Would the mirror idealize us or hate us?

In this series – I am writing this one single review for the 4 books as I felt them to be too interconnected to be reviewed separately – Elena Ferrante’s writing made me think of mirrors constantly. The 2 main characters lives are connected in a web of relationships, friendship, cultural and geographical background, aspirations, tragedy, envy, love and hate. They reflected each other’s lives and used such reflection as measurement of themselves, either being propelled forward by the comparison, or held back in a stated of continual resentment and hurt for what they did not achieve. We all have experienced this, I am sure. The facebook friend’s vacation that reminds us that we have not had a vacation in a long time. The high school classmate that looks so much younger, happier and richer than we do. Or the one that has been struck by personal tragedy and that reminds us that our own lives are blessed after all. All reflecting back at us, as true mirrors, our unfilled dreams, our shortcomings and, if we perceive ourselves being happy and successful, our pride and entitlement.

In the background of the main storyline, the lives of two women for more than 50 years, we learn of the neighborhood dynamics in this Naples shantytown, then of the political and cultural waves happening in Italy. We are exposed to motherhood, feminism, class warfare, family dysfunction, sexual awakening, violence, etc, etc, etc….

If I have one complain about Elena Ferrante’s writing is that it seems too long winding at times. She – whoever she may be, or he, as Elena Ferrante is an alias and although all the speculation about its true identy, we might never know – has a love for words and descriptions. We as readers can almost feel the pleasure she must have felt writing long and beautiful lines. I felt as drunk for her words as she must have felt writing them. But at times I wished that the narrator hurried on. The amount of detail seemed unnecessary and overly done. However I will forgive her, because when it was finally done, I felt sorry that she had not keep on going and lulled me along for yet longer.

I should mention that I listened to the whole series in audio and that Hilary Huber does a beautiful and nuanced reading of it.
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
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.
added by Laura400 | editNew York Times, Joseph Luzzi (Sep 27, 2013)

» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elena Ferranteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Damien, ElsaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldstein, AnnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krieger, KarinÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laake, Marieke vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Nella primavera del 1966 Lila, in uno stato di grande agitazione, mi affidò una scatola di metallo che conteneva otto quaderni.
In the spring of 1966, Lila, in a state of great agitation, entrusted to me a metal box that contained eight notebooks.
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The second book, following last year's My Brilliant Friend, 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.

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