Julie Christine's Reviews > The Story of a New Name

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1213607
's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: contemporary-fiction, italy-theme-setting, best-of-2015, read-2015

It is the early-mid 1960s and Naples is experiencing an economic and cultural renaissance: the post-war boom has created a new consumer class, with fancy shoe boutiques staffed by pretty girls dressed up like Jackie O. In university halls, students speak of the two Germanys, Indochina, nuclear arms, and Communism.

But not everything has changed. In the darker neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, where violence is an accepted means of communication and a woman’s worth is tallied by first her father, then her husband, tradition vies with progress.

It is here we left Lila on her wedding day, at the end of Book One of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend. Elena watched from the sidelines as her best friend sashayed into a life of comfort, buoyed by her husband Stefano’s economic success.

But how quickly fortunes shift. Book Two, The Story of a New Name, is still Lina and Elena’s story. The new name belongs to the girl who exchanged her father’s name for her husband’s yet remains confined to the old way of life, while a new life is granted to the plump, shy, awkward, girl who is able to continue her education. Womanhood awaits them both, but we see how conflicted Elena has become, feeling ever in the shadow of Lila’s magnetic beauty. The day of her marriage, Elena helps Lila prepare:
I washed her with slow, careful gestures, first letting her squat in the tub, then asking her to stand up: I still have in my ears the sound of the dripping water, and the impression that the copper of the tub had a consistency not different from Lila’s flesh, which was smooth, solid, calm. I had a confusion of feelings and thoughts: embrace her, weep with her, kiss her, pull her hair, laugh, pretend to sexual experience and instruct her in a learned voice, distancing her with words just at the moment of greatest closeness.

But in the end there was only the hostile thought that I was washing her, from her hair to the soles of her feet, early in the morning, just so that Stefano could sully her in the course of the night. I imagined her naked as she was at that moment, entwined with her husband, in the bed in the new house, while the train clattered under their windows and his violent flesh entered her with a sharp blow, like the cork pushed by the palm into the neck of a wine bottle. And it suddenly seemed to me that the only remedy against the pain I was feeling, that I would feel, was to find a corner secluded enough so that Antonio could do to me, at the same time, the exact same thing.

I posited that My Brilliant Friend is a novel of power; The Story of a New Name is about trust. In the opening scene, set some fifty years after Lila’s wedding, Elena betrays her friend’s trust, saying “I couldn’t stand feeling Lila on me and in me, even now that I was esteemed myself, even now that I had a life outside of Naples.” She dumps the journals Lila had given her for safekeeping into the Arno River, but then she turns back and tells Lila’s story to us, her readers, so that we’ll remember Lila, and the old neighborhood, forever.

Lila and Stefano’s marriage is built on sand, but it is a castle they manage to rebuild over and over again in the early years. Lila trusts her cleverness and beauty will protect what she most wants: control; Stefano trusts his position as husband and provider will allow him the same. Elena knows better than to put her faith in Lila, but she does, time and again, until her best friend shatters her heart. The young man whose affections she has been pining for since childhood turns his brooding eye to Lila, the young bride. The affair becomes Lila’s undoing, while at the same time Elena begins her slow rise, far from Naples and whirlpool of tradition and family. She escapes Lila’s fate:
I saw clearly the mothers of the old neighborhood. They were nervous, they were acquiescent. They were silent, with tight lips and stooping shoulders, or they yelled terrible insults at the children who harassed them. Extremely thin, with hollow eyes and cheeks, or with broad behinds, swollen ankles, heavy chests, they lugged shopping bags and small children who clung to their skirts. They had been consumed by the bodies of husbands, fathers, brothers, whom they ultimately came to resemble, because of their labors or the arrival of old age, of illness. When did that transformation begin? With housework? With pregnancies? With beatings?

But Elena cannot escape the dream that is Lila, the girl whom she knows to be more intelligent, quicker, more articulate—the real scholar. Elena handwrites a draft of a novel and offers it as a university graduation gift to a boyfriend, who passes it along to his mother, a book editor. And suddenly she is swept up in success. But it is Lila’s spirit that wrote Elena's book, even though it came from Elena’s hands. Elena discovers The Blue Fairy, a short novel Lila had written as a child, and realizes Lila’s words and voice are
the secret heart of my book. Anyone who wanted to know what gave it warmth and what the origin was of the strong but invisible thread that joined the sentences would have had to go back to that child’s packet, ten notebook pages, . . . the brightly colored cover, the title and not even a signature.
And in a gesture of trust and love for her friend, Elena returns the story to Lila, admitting, “I read it again and discovered that, without realizing it, I’ve always had it in my mind. That’s where my book comes from.” It is the story of a new name.

Yet would seem too late for redemption from Elena. Lila is lost, a fallen woman, the transformation Elena observed and dreaded a few years earlier in the wives of the old neighborhood has overcome her friend. Lila tosses her story into the flames and Elena leave Naples.

But Elena and Lila are still young, only in their mid-twenties, and there is still so much of their stories yet to tell.
49 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Story of a New Name.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

April 18, 2015 – Shelved
April 18, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
April 28, 2015 – Started Reading
April 29, 2015 –
page 54
11.46% ""Lina, we just have to get a few things straight. Your name is no longer Cerullo. You are Signora Carracci and you must do as I say. So justt ry saying again what you said tonight and I will ruin that beautiful face of yours so that you can't go out of the house. You understand? Answer me.""
April 30, 2015 –
page 154
32.7% ""That day I saw clearly the mothers of the old neighborhood. [...] Extremely thin, with hollow eyes and cheeks, or with broad behinds, swollen ankles, heavy chests, they lugged shopping bags and small children who clung to their skirts and wanted to be picked up. And, good God, they were ten, at most twenty years older than me.""
May 1, 2015 –
page 251
53.29% ""I felt, that day, that to speak of Lila with Nino could in the weeks to come give a new character to the relationship between the three of us. Neither she nor I would ever have him. But both of us could gain his attention, she as the object of a passion with no future, I as the wise counselor who kept under control both is folly and hers.""
May 2, 2015 –
page 375
79.62% ""Lina, I've loved you since we were children. I never told you because you are very beautiful and very intelligent, and I am sort, ugly, and worthless. Now return to your husband. I don't know why you left him and I don't want to know. But let's make a pact: in the case you can't come to an agreement with your husband, I brought you back to him and I will come and get you. All right?""
May 3, 2015 – Shelved as: best-of-2015
May 3, 2015 – Shelved as: italy-theme-setting
May 3, 2015 – Shelved as: contemporary-fiction
May 3, 2015 – Shelved as: read-2015
May 3, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Julie Christine Now what do I do?


Karen Witzler Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay? Although I am taking a break before moving on. Lila/Lenu are intense.


Julie Christine Karen wrote: "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay? Although I am taking a break before moving on. Lila/Lenu are intense." :) Of course, yes, I know of and will read the next, and the next when it's released in the fall. But this morning, in this quiet dawn, I am bereft.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Julie, I love your observation about the relationship between the novel's title and what becomes of "The Blue Fairy." I was seeing the title strictly in terms of Lila's new married name. Brilliant!


Julie Christine Shelley wrote: "Julie, I love your observation about the relationship between the novel's title and what becomes of "The Blue Fairy." I was seeing the title strictly in terms of Lila's new married name. Brilliant!" Ah, Shelley- thank you!


message 6: by Margitte (last edited May 07, 2015 09:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Margitte What a great review of this book, Julie. It is a series that has gripped me as well. The book got my emotions going high-wire at times, it was just that well written. I felt connected, involved in their lives. It did not feel like only reading the book.


Julie Christine Margitte wrote: "What a great review of this book, Julie. It is a seies that has gropped me as well. The book got my emotions going high-wire at times, it was just that well written. I felt connected, involved in t..."

Margitte- thank you. So true- I don't know when I've been so touched by literary lives. I'm itching to start #3-these characters are under my skin and in my heart. Just have to take a deep breath and get through a stack of library books first. And maybe pace myself, waiting for #4.


Suzy I just finished this last night. I also love your connection about the story of The Blue Fairy getting a new name. I imagine we'll find out what that name is in the next book. I'm giving myself a little space before reading #3. Like Margitte, I feel these books are so intense I need some space to absorb this one.


Julie Christine Suzy wrote: "I just finished this last night. I also love your connection about the story of The Blue Fairy getting a new name. I imagine we'll find out what that name is in the next book. I'm giving myself a l..."

I feel the same, Suzy. I need a little room between each to let things settle down. I'm planning to Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay in late July. Then I'll be ready for September's release of The Story of the Lost Child!


message 10: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy I was thinking about the same timing, Julie! Buddy read :) In the meantime, I plan to listen to a few podcasts and read some magazines. I tried to start another book last night and my mind kept wandering back to Naples.


Julie Christine Suzy wrote: "I was thinking about the same timing, Julie! Buddy read :) In the meantime, I plan to listen to a few podcasts and read some magazines. I tried to start another book last night and my mind kept wan..."
Suzy, and here we are, digging into to #3!


message 12: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy Julie wrote: "Suzy wrote: "I was thinking about the same timing, Julie! Buddy read :) In the meantime, I plan to listen to a few podcasts and read some magazines. I tried to start another book last night and my ..."

I know! True confessions, I stuck with the slow-ish book I'm currently reading since it's a loaner from a neighbor and it takes place in Northern Minnesota. Prudence Hope to finish soon, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is staring at me like a box of chocolates demanding to be eaten!


Chuck Very nice review. One minor quibble: Elena doesn't dispose of the letters half a century after receiving them; it's more like six months (she was still a student in Pisa when this occurred). The episode in the book's opening chapter is re-described in Chapter 105, where it's clear that Elena is still a student.


Ollie Great review Julie - I like your points about the 1st novel being about power, and the 2nd about trust. For me, the first one was really tied to the fairy tale motif (from The Blue Fairy all the way to the fairy-tale wedding at the end) whereas this second one struck me as a mirror of the 1st novel - a distorted mirror.

I've just started to read the 3rd novel and will search out your review afterwards!


back to top