I struggle with how to write this review, not wanting to spoil the three novels that preceded it (which I, incidentally, recommend higher than this last one). The Neapolitan Novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of a Lost Child) center around two girls, magnetically close friends (by which I mean they both attract and repel one another), growing up in postwar Naples. Lila (Rafaella) is an object of fascination and (in time) respect in the “old neighborhood”–a beautiful and, yes, brilliant autodidact and true Renaissance woman. Lenu (Elena), our narrator, defines herself somewhat in opposition to all that Lila is. Lenu is fairer, better educated, a published author, but never as remarkable, polarizing, or compelling as Lila.
There is something so fluid and yet gripping about Ferrante’s writing, as though she is merely recounting the truth of what happened to these characters. And there were plenty of times throughout the book and series that I thought perhaps she truly was:
I loved Lila. I wanted her to last. But I wanted it to be I who made her last. I thought it was my task. I was convinced that she herself, as a girl, had assigned it to me.
*Mild spoilers below!*
I found the action of this final novel less intriguing and, dare I say, far more depressing than the prior outings, but I was left with the sense that it was a story that needed to be completed thusly. There is a senseless tragedy that occurs which does make the neighborhood drama of the prior novels feel petty in comparison. Even though the title hints at this, it was a bit jarring to have something so egregious occur. The title of this post is an arch observation from Lila that belies the central theme of the series. These lives, and this friendship, have meaning, and they’re a story worth telling. Thus, as I mentioned above, I certainly recommend this series, and applaud this depiction of female friendship in all its dynamic and mystifying glory.