By Caitlin Kelly
It’s a series of four books that everyone I know rhapsodizes over, by Elena Ferrante.
I tried to read the first one years ago, and gave up.
If you haven’t seen it, and can, I urge you!
It’s the story of two women, who meet as young girls in a rough Naples neighborhood, one extremely beautiful, uneducated, Lila, who uses her beauty over and over as her most powerful weapon — even though she ends up pregnant by one man and miserably married, at 19, to another. Suddenly she is wearing elegant shifts and enormous pearls.
While she’s wildly tempestuous and rebellious compared to her friend Elena, (Lenu), who is quiet, shy, bookish, Lila’s life is a rollercoaster.
Both women, even as very young girls, see each other as their “brilliant friend”, both admiring and envious of the other’s skills and talents and ways of navigating their world — a tough and insulated world always dominated by money and by men, who have all the money.
Their world, post WWII Naples, in a town without a single tree or flower, is violent and allows them only one legitimate choice — to marry young and well, if possible, and have children. To attend university, as Elena eventually does, is the only true escape.
It’s mesmerizing, although sometimes so painful to watch — to see two women grow up, sometimes deeply committed and sometimes in such fierce competition with one another, for male attention, for family respect, for work with any meaning, for a life they define as theirs in any way.
If you — as I have — have had a best friend for decades, watching one another grow and change, through joy and despair — this will resonate deeply.
Set in the 50s and 60s, the sets, locations, costumes are all perfect — Italy!
The music is beautiful and evocative, the themes totally relatable.
And here’s a link to a documentary about the two terrific actresses — who had never before acted…!
I’m surprised to find a quiet and even bashful girl. From a small seaside town south of Naples, she says she shares with Lila “her energy, the fragility of her sentiments, her determination.”
She and her mother have moved to be close to the set. Unlike the other girls, who burned to tell their friends about the role of a lifetime, Girace wanted to keep it a secret. “It was a thing for me,” she says softly. “A personal thing.”
Margherita Mazzucco, the fifteen-year-old who plays the older Lenù, is fairer, with thick, wavy hair. She welcomes me to the courtyard, “where I live,” she jokes, and complains that the costumed padding is making her seem heavier.
“I’ve never acted, never done anything,” she says. “Even today, I asked myself why they picked me.” In the course of devouring the books, she at first saw nothing of herself in the naive “and nice” Lenù. But as an actress, she has learned they both “observe everything.”
Have you read the books and/or seen the show?