Just because I haven’t done a review for a while, doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. I have. But it was like a snowball, I read a book, then didn’t have time to write about it, but started reading another one and then I forgot what I thought about the previous one and now I’m about 15 books down the line and I can only remember the good ones. Which is no bad thing.
I know we’re now in winter, but it’s my summer reading which has stuck with me. I started and finished all four of the Elena Ferrante novels, which begins with the story of two young girls and their friendship and with each book explores further the nature of that friendship. It’s about what the women mean to each other, how their relationships with men are affected by their friendship, how their relationship with their children are affected by their relationship and are also wonderful essays on the life and times of Naples & Italy as a whole, in an era spanning 50 years, starting in the 1950’s.
They are truly marvelous stories, with a level of detail which is phenomenal. Ferrante manages to write down each nitty gritty detail of how each of the characters are feeling, how the other person might be feeling, possible consequences of those feelings, everything you could ask for in order to fully comprehend who that person is and why they do what they do.
The beauty of this is that Elena (our narrator’s) friend, Lina, (who really is the main character throughout all four of the novels) is never really fully understood. She continues to shock and confuse far in to the fourth book when they are all fully grown adults.
The novels are a commitment and the translation from Italian to English can sometimes make the language feel a little clunky, but even that seemed to add to the enjoyment. I remember the first one the best and I think maybe it’s because the detailed exploration of all life events was unlike anything I had ever read before.
They are a unique narrative written in the first person and so they feel real, possibly biographical. The author is something of an enigma and has written other novels, which I intend to have a go at soon. In the meantime, I’m still savouring the insight into friendships and people that I gained from those four novels.
After that (and actually in between those four books – I sometimes needed a break from the level of detail that Ferrante was able to summon up) I consumed a variety of fiction, some good, some better, some mediocre. The stand out ones are:
A Spool of Thin Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. I like Anne Tyler, but I’m never excited by her. This one however took me a little by surprise, as it didn’t take long to become properly engrossed in this tale of families and expectations, secrets and truths. She really is a master at characters and backstories and this book really resonated with me. It presented facts from one character and then twisted it round to show the complexities of the family structure.
It seems I’ve read two of Liane Moriaty’s books recently which is odd, but actually she’s very clever at creating rich stories and she has a comforting way of writing which makes her very easy to read. The last one was The Husbands Secret which had the right amount of observation and humor, with a story line about the harshness of life. Most enjoyable.
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson was a great read, but if I had to say anything negative about it, it would be that to read it on a Kindle was to set yourself up for huge confusion. If ever there was a novel that needed to be in physical form, so the reader can flip back to figure out who was who and when, it was this one.
But despite this, I found it to be beautifully written, summoning up a real flavour of wartime Britain and the reality of living through the Blitz. It was a little far fetched in places, but if you can’t get a little bit far fetched in a book, where can you?