Book of the month; My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

So what is going on with Elena Ferrante? I was given the book for Christmas after much gushing about how brilliant this Italian writer is. The ‘Neapolitan Novels’ are being made into films, and yesterday I turned on the radio to find one being serialised there too. It is translated by Anne Goldstein, an American editor of The New Yorker, who I saw being interviewed at The Hay Literary Festival recently, and quite frankly, I don’t know what the fuss is about.
It’s a reasonably interesting story of two girls growing up in a rough Naples neighbourhood in the 1950’s. They are both bright enough to do well at school, but where one chooses academia, the other chooses marriage at the age of 17. I was constantly aware of the translators voice (maybe I was just looking for it!).
I suspect that much of the hype surrounding the author, is because of the mystery she creates around her personal life, writing under a pseudonym, refusing to promote her books, to do interviews or publicity events and creating speculation about the autobiographical content of her novels. Is she describing her own childhood experiences? or are they completely fictional? Whatever the reason for her secrecy, it seems to have created a kind of Ferrante hysteria amongst her fans.
Personally, I think that books inevitably loose a lot in translation. A weak storyline, can be carried by beautiful writing, and the translator can never recreate the original prose. Maybe in Italian, the writing is masterful, but in American English, it fails to live up to much.
If you have read any of the books and are a fan, I’d love to hear your opinion!

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