The Story of a New Name
The second in the Neapolitan Novels series by evasive Italian author Elena Ferrante, The Story of a New Name elicited the Guardian to dub Ferrante a ‘writer of the unsayable’.
It continues her sweeping telling of the tangled, complicated friendship between Elena Greco and Lina Cerullo, which began in 1950s Naples in the pages of My Brilliant Friend, before closing with Lina’s rejection of further education to get married at age 16. This and the other two books in the series are narrated by Elena – or Lenú – who grows to become a famous novelist and who, from a position of late adulthood, remembers their lives after Lina’s son reports that his 66-year-old mother has gone missing.
This second novel’s title refers to Lina’s change of surname with her marriage – but also, interestingly, to Elena’s retention of hers as her published pen name, even after she weds the fiancé she meets while studying at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. We see Lina’s chaos inspire Elena: her roles as grocer’s wife, as adulteress falling pregnant by her lover, and as cuckolded mother.
Meantime, Elena’s success while rewarding, feels less colourful without Lina sharing in it. Though questions about this significant author’s identity continue to swirl as her (or possibly ‘his’?) novels grow in popularity, she explains her anonymity away simply: ‘True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known.’