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3.5 out of 5 stars25
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This intense psychological novel, recently translated into English, recreates a daughter's efforts to understand her mother following her mother's mysterious death. Delia, an artist of comic strips, receives three strange phone calls from her mother just before her mother disappears on her way from Naples to Rome to visit Delia. When the body of Amalia, Delia's mother, is ultimately discovered floating near a beach, she is nude, except for a piece of designer underwear, not typical for her mother. Though she has never been close to her mother, Delia is understandably curious about the circumstances of her death, and she leaves Rome to investigate her mother's life in Naples.

Author Elena Ferrante, a pen name used by one of Italy's foremost (and most private) contemporary authors, creates haunting mysteries from the lives of ordinary people leading seemingly ordinary lives--the kinds of mysteries which always exist for family members who can never quite get inside the lives and relationships of people they think they know but whose intimate lives they have not shared. Gradually, Delia begins to realize she may be more her mother's daughter than she had realized. Dense with imagery which speaks directly to the reader's own sensibilities about family, this emotional and introspective novel is also full of ambiguities which resonate long after some of the mysteries have been solved.
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on 28 October 2015
I am working my way through all of Ferrante's work at present. Not as brilliant as "My Brilliant Friend" but close.
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VINE VOICEon 28 February 2009
I found it very hard to engage with this book. This tale of a Delia returning to her home town after her mother's death and discovering her mother had a secret life was interesting, however the author's preoccupation with womens' bodily functions and secretions made it a little too earthily blunt and slightly sordid for me.

The sultry heat of backstreet Naples did come through though, and combined to make an emotionally claustrophobic story that I recognised as being a great debut novel from this secretive Italian writer, but not one that I enjoyed reading.
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Engrossing and considered from the first to the last page. Really enjoyed her writing.
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on 19 August 2015
An intense novel by a very talented author. A woman tries to find the reason for her mother's untimely death. Set in Naples, the novel
evokes the atmosphere of this fascinating city.
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on 24 November 2013
Intriguing and draws one in, but it is not a comfortable read. Amazingly vivid descriptions, but sometimes of places one would rather not go!
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on 11 April 2016
Having thoroughly enjoyed the Neapolitan Quartet, I was looking forward to the back catalogue. However, this one disappointed. Translation was stilted, the plot laboured and the narrative flow did not serve to develop the persona on the protagonist in any way. I struggled to the end hoping to discover some redeeming resolution - but did not. How irksome. Maybe there are several Elena Ferrante's?? We should be warned!
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on 5 April 2016
This is a story of a hardworking Italian family in the fifties , and how members of this group grew apart because of personality clashes.
Personalty clashes happen in a lot of working groups but these went unchallenged because of the times I suspect. It was a rare and honest insight into unresolved issues between a daughter a mother surviving the times she was living in. A great read.
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on 7 February 2016
This is a truly remarkable piece of work , her first novel and a masterpiece. Loved it.
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on 11 August 2015
Elena Ferrante was written up in two articles I saw as a 'must read' author, so I ordered this.

Delia returns to her native Naples following her seamstress mother's sudden death from drowning in an apparent suicide. Investigating a mysterious figure from her mother's past, she also trawls her memory for clues to what might have driven her mother to such a step. The figure of her estranged, brutal father looms over both mother and daughter.

This may sound like a thriller - and I suppose it is a "psychological thriller" - but Elena Ferrante is not writing a piece of crime fiction, she's writing a highly literary novel where style is as important as substance. Delia's 'journey' is full of visions in which past and present merge discomfortingly. Her cast of weird characters is vividly sketched, and the city of Naples, teeming and yet lonely, is as powerful a presence as any of the characters.

I haven't read any literary Italian since Moravia decades ago. I think his novels were less challenging than this. Ferrante's prose reminds me of Anita Brookner - lucid and dense at the same time - but there's an attention to detail that also evokes E.M. Forser and Virginia Woolf. Not a book for someone looking for a Montalbano-style caper, but a very worthwhile read for anyone looking for a new pure vision of the Mediterranean mindset.

[Reviewer is the author of THE BEXHILL MISSILE CRISIS]
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