Elena Ferrante is the mystery woman of Italian fiction. No one knows much about her. No one knows who she is. James Wood wrote a profile in the New Yorker a while back, but it was mostly speculation and analysis of her works. The recent speculation is Italy in that she's really a man. I doubt it.
Readers are usually fascinated to know, after reading a novel, “How much of this really happened?”
In the case of Ferrante, there’s no one to ask.
Yet to judge by the second installment of her trilogy, The Story of a New Name, much of it probably close to the truth. I say this because the book is sprawling and full of incidental details that seem to be lifted from someone’s personal diary rather than concocted as structural elements of a plot.
The book is set largely in Naples, and it deals with two young women, friends since childhood, who become estranged after one marries into a successful but crime-tinged family while the other continues her education, falling in love with the son of her favorite professor.
That's a very simplistic description of a 400-page novel, needless to say. It reminds me of the TV Guide description I saw once of Hamlet: "Man returns home to find father dead."
The novel is well worth reading, I think, if you can survive the occasionally long-winded and irrelevant passages. Rather than describing it in greater detail, I might just as well refer you to the review I wrote, which appeared in Rain Taxi a few days ago.
In case you’re interested.