The Mystery of Elena Ferrante?

Most women -- if they are avid readers-- enjoy the novels of Elena Ferrante, especially her Neopolitan saga, with its detailed portrait of a life-long friendship.  Some women adore them, call them their favorite novels.  

It's almost a cult by now.


Part of the mystique (it's said) is that  no one knows anything at all about the author.  She calls one of her characters, yes, Elena.  And the books are written in an almost uncannily autobiographical style.  The novels are filled with Dickensian (or perhaps Italian neo-realist) details that most novels have abandoned.  They are novels that tell, rather than show -- and they tell a lot.  We see life in gorgeous, granular detail, and the feelings of Elena are explored bit by bit, slowly.  It's a return to that leisurely old-fashioned narrative that (some of us thought) had gone away.  And there are layers upon layers of secrecy, that the novels slowly, luxuriously, reveal-- just as life itself does.

It feels all too real.  Not a false note anywhere.   

But do I care who Elena Ferrante actually is?  

Some argue, yes, and that her hidden identity is a marketing ploy to sell more books (in which case, it's unclear why all authors don't hide under the table.)  My guess is that she doesn't like the limelight.  I can't blame her.  

Because I don't care at all who the "real" Elena Ferrante is.  I don't need to learn her name, or where she lives, or whom she votes for.  I know who she is.

I agree with Lincoln Michel's essay, We May Know Who Ferrante Is, But Have We Learned anything?  I "know" the author through her books.  She's not hiding anything from me.   It's all there in the books, in wonderful thought and feeling. She seems the least mysterious of writers, and I sense (her triumph, of course) that if she were sitting beside me, she'd understand me.  

As for biographical hunches:  no doubt, she's an intellectual, and of the European variety of that species.  A woman (although it wouldn't bother me if she weren't.)  Most of all, a writer. A great writer.

As for her novels, they feel invented.  They do not read or feel like memoirs.  As literary memoir, her trilogy would fail: the character's life seems unexceptional, ordinary (which is one of the novels' achievements -- to lend meaning to the ordinary)  As for where biography ends and novelistic imagination begins...well, that's what real writers make us forget.  

Call her by the name that she's chosen:  Elena Ferrante.
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