|Read Chapter 1 here|
Links for the East Side Readers Discussion
NY Times Review
Review at BookForum
Reviews of this book from various sources
NY Review of Books article
Harvard Review on Names
Interview with Ferrante in the Paris Review
Synopsis of all four books
New Yorker essay on themes
Neapolitan Novels (Wikipedia)
Debate about her book covers
Virginia Woolf on Elena Ferrante
Name Game: The Big Reveal
None of your Business
Fallout from the Name Game
Revelation Exposes Cultural Differences
Have we learned anything?
Her new book, Frantumaglia
Discussion questions from Europa Editions
1. Early in The Story of a New Name, we learn that Elena threw Lila’s notebooks into the river, destroying all of Elena’s writing, which allowed her to elevate her own writing. To what extent—if any—has Elena’s success been at the expense of Lila’s?
2. Even before Lila and Stefano separate, Nunzia expresses regret that Lila married so young, when in fact, Nunzia, Fernando, and Rino pushed Lila into her marriage. What role does family play in Lila’s and Elena’s lives? In what way can Nunzia’s servitude at Ischia be seen as penance for crippling her daughter’s ambitions?
3. Out of all of the men Lila could have fallen in love with, why does she choose Nino? Are her intentions malicious? Or does her choice reflect a desire for a new kind of life? Is a new kind of life possible for her?
4. One gets the impression that the bond between Lila and Elena is stronger than any marriage. Why is that? Why can they be close to each other in a way they can’t be close to their spouses?
5. In Ferrante’s work, violence and the threat of violence are so omnipresent that they are almost characters in themselves. How does Ferrante show cultural violence reinforcing organizational violence (e.g. the mafia and camorra), and vice versa?
6. As Elena soon realizes, Lila’s “art project” at the shoe store is an act of self-destruction. In what other ways does Lila engage in self-destruction? Is her insistence on wearing fine clothing also a way of effacing herself? Is the same true of her retreat into motherhood? Why does Lila want to be erased?
7. How might Lila’s life have been different if she had not been beautiful and had grown into her beauty the way that Elena did? Would it have been any different?
8. When Elena loses faith that the university will ever give her the social mobility she desires, she explains how not everyone at the university is so despondent about their futures. She says, [Those who are not despondent] were youths—almost all male . . . who excelled because they knew, without apparent effort, the present and the future use of the labor of studying. They knew because of the families they came from . . .” (403). Is Elena right that she will never really be able to rise about the class in which she was born? Why or why not?
9. We learn from Elena that she practically failed her university exam only to discover that she passed with marks high enough to receive a scholarship. In what other ways is Elena an unreliable narrator? Can the reader trust her portrayal of Lila?
10. How might the Neapolitan novels have been different if Lila had authored them rather than Elena? How would she have described her friend?
11. When Elena returns home from school, she has trouble communicating with her mother. She says, “Language itself, in fact, had become a mark of alienation. I expressed myself in a way that was too complex for her, although I made an effort to speak in dialect, and when I realized that and simplified the sentences, the simplification made them unnatural and therefore confusing” (437). What is the role of language in The Story of a New Name? How does language underline the girls’ complex ties to the community in which they were born?
12. In My Brilliant Friend, Elena and Lila adore Little Women. And again, the novel comes up in The Story of a New Name. In what ways do Elena and Lila’s lives differ from or resemble those of the Marsh sisters? What is Ferrante trying to tell us in making this comparison?
13. Elena and Lila began life in the same neighborhood, going to the same school, but by the end of the book, their lives have diverged. Why is this? Is Lila debilitated by her superior intelligence? Is she too combative to be accepted? Or is Elena merely luckier than Lila?What qualities have allowed Elena to succeed?