THE STORY OF A NEW NAME, Neapolitan novels, book two
By Elena Ferrante
Europa Editions 2013
Ms. Hen read the first book of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels in the spring of this year, but at first she didn’t realize there were more in the series. She was shocked at the end of the first book, and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. She bought the second book and waited to read it because she wanted to enjoy and savor every minute of it.
This novel takes place when Elena and Lila are young adults. Elena continues with high school and Lila is newly married. Lila’s husband, Stefano, is a brute to her on their wedding night and somehow Lila manages not to get pregnant by him. That is, pregnant by him.
Elena, or Lenucia, as her family calls her, struggles with school and her relationship with Lila. Everything is difficult for Elena and she is jealous that Lila can learn things more easily. Elena is fascinated that Lila learned how to swim at the beach when they were away for the summer, and she realizes that Lila could learn how to do anything that she put her mind to doing. But not everyone has that talent.
Elena thinks that Lila is better than her in every way, even though Elena is the one who goes to school and eventually college. Lila falls in love with Nino, the man Elena desires, and he falls for her, and Elena seethes with envy. Even though Elena bursts with jealousy for Lila, she realizes she could never have what she has.
Elena has a difficult time with being an educated person from a world where nobody is educated. She also struggles to relate to children of the elite who are her classmates. She meets the parents of her boyfriend, and she doesn’t understand how they communicate with each other so easily about intellectual matters.
Elena’s problems are common for many people who become educated and try to relate to their families and communities that cannot understand them and why they care about things that seem to have no consequence in the ordinary world. Elena realizes that there is a different sphere that exists, and she thinks she could never be a part of the universe of the upper echelon.
But she is wrong. She does become a part of it. She flourishes, and she needs to share her success with Lila. But Lila is the one who always brings her back to earth.
Ms. Hen found some chickens in this novel and they brought her back to earth. When Elena goes to Ischia with Lila and her mother and her sister-in-law, the young brides fight over which room they want and Elena is stuck in the back, “…while the room that fell to Nunzia had a sort of porthole, high up, so that we never discovered what was outside it and mine, which was very small, and barely had space for the bed, look out on a chicken coop sheltered by a forest of reeds.” Elena found Lila and Nino together while the group though Lila was calling Stefano, “I went out hesitantly, an odor of tires mingles with the smell of the chicken coop.” Ms. Hen thinks that these two instances of chickens mentioned in the novel are at the darkest part of Elena’s youth, when she was at the beach with Lila and Lila breaks Elena’s heart in more ways than one. Unspeakable things happen to Elena at the beach, and they are all because of Lila.
Even though Lila proves to Elena that she is smarter and better than her again and again, Elena still loves her and still goes back to her because she thinks she needs her, like the waves need the moon.
Ms. Hen loved this book. She is not going to wait as long as she did since the first book to find out what happens next. She gives THE STORY OF A NEW NAME five feathers up. She recommends it to anyone who wants to read a novel about a person with a tortured but ordinary life.