Book Notes: Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child

I finished Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, and I have some good news: it’s possible that European literature (and consequently European culture) is not dead. It might have simply been taking a nap. Not only did Houellebecq come out with something decent, now Ferrante has brought the clinically dead Italian literature back to life.

Everybody knows that Italian Studies are dead on this continent. At most, an American university might have an ancient Italian professor teaching Intermediate Italian in utter isolation. And if even Americans won’t study you, that means your culture is irredeemably lost.

Europe has not been producing anything massively valuable in terms of culture for quite a while. Spain, yes, but “Africa begins in the Pyrinees”, so it’s a question just how European it is. Plus, Spain is fertilized by the vibrant Latin America to whom it gave its language and culture. Also, I’m biased in Spain’s favor. Germans keep being as scatologically German as ever, and in the UK the valiant Zadie Smith single-handedly is trying to fill the gap where the British culture used to exist. Scandinavians produce tons of shallow commercial glop, and Eastern Europeans can’t even do that.

But now all of a sudden everybody is back to reading European novels and talking about European writers and the ideas they produce. And that’s huge. I hope this isn’t a fluke but, rather, one of those moments when the endlessly announced decline of the West once again fails to transpire.

4 thoughts on “Book Notes: Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child

  1. How could you know? You only read “literature” in English or Spanish (and the latter only works written in Spanish IINM).

    For anything else you’re dependent on what English language publishers will pay to have translated and they are notorious for not being interested in publishing translated works.

    For all you or I know there are tons of interesting literature being produced but that you can’t/won’t access.


    1. Valuable stuff always finds its way to readers. Houellebecq and Ferrante did.

      I always ask colleagues in other fields if something interesting is going on. At Oxford, for instance, I talked to a scholar from Finland. She studies African literature because there is no Finnish literature to study. Colleagues in French all study Moroccan or Algerian literature because there’s nothing in French.

      It’s impossible to conceal great art if it exists.


  2. For the record: Houellebecq has not won a Nobel prize, deserved or not (not, in my opinion, and apparently even in yours). In recent years two French novelists have won: Patrick Modiano (2014) and JMG Le Clezio (2008).


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