I went into this series hesitantly but it ended up being one of my favourites of all time and is definitely a series that is going to stick with me for a long time to come.
Note: I had so much to say about this series that this review might be a mess, sorry!
Published: 2012-2015 by Europa Editions
Source: Charity shop and Library
Length (Pages): 1: 336 2: 471 3: 418 4: 480
Avg Goodreads Rating: 1: 3.88 2: 4.37 3: 4.29 4: 4.39
My Series Rating: Individual 4 Stars. As a whole, 5 Stars.
Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous, Elena Ferrante tells the story of a sixty-year friendship between Elena and the rebellious Lila. We follow them through growing up in a violent impoverished neighbourhood dreaming of getting out all the way into adulthood as they become mothers.
The reason I am reviewing this series all together rather than giving each book an individual review is because these books are not individual. They do not stand alone and honestly I would go as far as saying these books could have easily been published together in one huge book.
Individually I gave these books 4 stars, but together this is a 5 star series.
What struck me first is that it’s structured as if the main character is actually writing their biography. These books are her recounting her sometimes poisonous friendship with Lila, starting in childhood until they’re 60 years old.
This immediately made me question whether these books were fiction or whether these events actually happened. Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym (and shares her first name with the main character). At times the way an event or person or emotion is written feels so real it makes me think it is. But if it isn’t, than Elena Ferrante is a remarkable writer.
Seriously though, the writing is brilliant. Ferrante is able to capture emotion in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. I especially loved how she captured childhood in the first book. I feel like a lot of us can forget what it’s like to be a child but Ferrante didn’t. She was able to capture what it’s like to be small and care about such seemingly insignificant things.
The characters were beautifully written. They’re developed, complex and so real. I wouldn’t say I could put anybody into a good or a bad box and as flawed as they were I ended up genuinely caring about what happened to them.
The character that a lot of these books revolve around is Elena’s best friend Lila. For Elena becoming Lila’s friend was a gift and a curse. Lila is intelligent and her and Elena became friends through a shared interest for learning. Lila inspired Elena but also made her envious as she always felt second best.
As I said this book is written as if it’s an autobiography so it felt like Elena had a lot of influence in how I felt about a character. Elena tends to feel jealous or self-conscious which makes her say some very biased things for/against certain characters which I found so interesting.
Gender roles also played a big part in these books. The neighbourhood Elena grew up in is very violent and has very ‘old fashioned’ views on gender. Elena (and especially Lila) suffer a lot by the hands of men. It’s interesting to see Elena’s feminism and political opinions develop through the series.
The only time these books lost me was when it was talking about Italian politics. This is partly my own fault for not knowing much about Italy (or politics in general) but I feel like the political side wasn’t explained enough.
There are so many wonderful things about this series. The characters, the way it’s written, the setting, the feminism, the politics, the plots, the friendships, the relationships, the childhood to adulthood, the brutal honesty. I devoured these books and the minute I finished I wanted to start them all over again.
I would say that fans of Jane Austen would love Elena Ferrante as they both write character driven books (but I prefer Ferrante).
If you’re looking for your next summer read, please give these books a try.
Thanks for reading