Discussed in this essay:
My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante. Europa Editions. 336 pages. $17.
The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante. Europa Editions. 480 pages. $18.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante. Europa Editions. 400 pages. $18.
Little is known about the writer Elena Ferrante. It’s assumed the name is pseudonymous, but only her Italian publisher could say for sure. From Fragments, a short collection of letters and written answers to readers’ questions, published in 2012, we do gather a few facts: she comes from Naples but no longer lives there, has a classics degree, was once married, and is a mother. These details correspond with the outline of the story she gives to Elena Greco, the narrator of her remarkable novel sequence — My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), and now Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay — about the friendship between two women born into working-class Neapolitan families in the Forties. In Italy, rumors circulate that “Elena Ferrante” is the work of a male writer, or even writers, an Ern Malley–type hoax. This is not impossible, though if it’s true I feel sorry for the man, or men, behind it. They’ve worked so hard for so long that they must be either sanctified or deranged.