lixy Yes. It's a slow burn with Ferrante. It starts slow and enclosed with the 2 little girls in their constrained miserable life (can be hard to read, and seem tedious to get into, but is utterly engrossing in itself) but as they and the story expands outwards to other characters the payoff for having been through every detail of their psychological foundations and the underpinnings of their complex relationship becomes immeasurably more powerful and explosive.
Allison As Liza says, you must read the book in order because it's a chronological story of the relationship between two childhood friends and the people in the neighborhood in Naples where they live. The first book establish who all the "players" are and their relationships and interactions with each other. I found the 3 books to be real page turners. In fact, I couldn't put them down. I can hardly wait for the 4th book to come out in Fall 2015.
Melanie Absolutely! This is more like one incredibly long book broken into four volumes. Each of the successive books picks up where the previous book left off and there are many references to earlier incidents that would make little or no sense if you hadn't read the earlier book.
Mary Yes. It definitely will add to your experience to start with the first book and read them in order, to be fully immersed in their world and their history. Otherwise you'll miss the backstories of the whole Neapolitan neighborhood. One book continues directly into the next.
Shari Graydon Yes. Although Ferrante gives a recap of the previous book at the start of volumes 2 and 3, your appreciation of the relationship between the two main characters will be immeasurably enhanced by having followed them from their first childhood encounter at the age of 8, in the first book.
Ivan absolutely. it's a bildungsroman, a story told from a huge span of time and involved a great many well-rounded characters. It's slow at first, but once you've grown attached to the protagonists, you'll wish it would never end.
Felice Absolutely. Each book continues from and builds on the one before. Each books lends depth to the events in the next one.