An overheard remark prompts an adolescent girl to uncover the truth about her relatives (and herself) in Ferrante’s precise dissection of one family’s life in Naples.
Upon hearing her father refer to her, disparagingly, as having the same face as a despised and estranged relative, 12-year-old Giovanna, previously a good student and affectionate daughter, embarks on an odyssey of detection and discovery through areas of Naples from which her educated and progressive parents have shielded her. Desperate to determine whether she, indeed, resembles the abhorred Aunt Vittoria, Giovanna seeks out her father’s sister and develops a fraught relationship with the troubled woman. The process of untangling generations of internecine deceit and rivalry—including the provenance of a peripatetic heirloom bracelet—leads Giovanna to truths about the conventional lies told by her parents and to decisions about how she wishes to conduct her own, not-yet-adult, life. (The bracelet appears to have mutable properties and serves as either charm or handcuff, just another thing to ask the enigmatic author about over coffee.) Ferrante revisits previously explored themes—violence against women, female friendships, the corrosive effects of class disparities—albeit in a more rarified sector of Naples (the privileged “upper” neighborhood of Rione Alto) than in her earlier Neapolitan Quartet. Giovanna’s nascent sexuality is more frankly explored than that of previous Ferrante protagonists, permitting the author to highlight two sides of teen sexuality: agency and abuse. Goldstein’s fluid translation once again allows readers into the head of a young woman recalling with precision and emotion a series of events which lead to a point of confession. Ferrante’s legion of devoted readers will be encouraged by another equivocal ending, permitting the hope of further exploration of Giovanna’s journey in future volumes.
A girl, a city, an inhospitable society: Ferrante’s formula works again!