Elena Ferrante is the internationally acclaimed Italian author of The Neapolitan Quartet and other novels. She writes under a pseudonym and has maintained her privacy for over twenty years. In this autobiographical work, Frantumaglia (in Neapolitan dialect meaning bits and pieces) she allows her readers to get very close to who she is as a person and as a writer. The work is divided into three sections: Papers: 1991 - 2003; Tesserae: 2003 - 2007; Letters: 2011 - 2016.
What shines through is her attentiveness: to her work and her vision; concerns about accepting a major Italian literary award; details over the film script for one of her novels; aspects about her own working class background where her mother was a master dressmaker, making her own dress patterns along with the careful selection of fabrics which gave life and personality to the completed dress. We learn that she is well read; the battle of the sexes and, if there is such as thing as equality of the sexes in Italy, is of interest; her fears and what brings anxiety to her life and writing; in one particularly candid and detailed section, "Women who write," she answers questions about how the creation of a novel takes place, and writing the truth about human experience. Ferrante began writing at fifteen, and read intensively. In those early years she lacked knowledge of modern literature and thought that the great writers were men. and could not identify with the works of major women writers. It took her twenty years to fully realize what she wanted to accomplish as a writer, with a very distinct voice that would fulfill her vision as a woman writer.
In letters to interviewers and editors she states her criterion for writing a story, " . . .the more uneasy a story makes me, the more stubbornly I persist in telling it." On anonymity: paraphrasing Calvino, "Go ahead and ask me about my private life; I won't answer you or I'll always lie." Northrop Frye, " . . . writers are rather simple people, at most neither wiser nor better than anyone else. . . what matters about them is what they can do well--string together words."
There has been curiosity and speculation about who Elena Ferrante might be, but most reviewers and journalists allowed her to remain anonymous. The discussion and analysis of the novels have provided sufficient material for serious journalists. After all, Emily Dickinson wrote for years in solitude, and it was after her death that she and her work became known. However in today’s tell-all-need-to-know-all about one’s self and everyone else, and with continued celebrations over the quartet, one person would not let go, and an exposé was published, with the purported true identity of Elena Ferrante. This has created its own windstorm and furor of opinions, which has done nothing to break down Elena Ferrante's resolve to write behind her pseudonym. More importantly, it has done nothing to diminish her artistry.
Selected as one of LAPL Reads Best of 2016: Non-Fiction.