Over the last year, Italian enigma Elena Ferrante has become one of the most passionately advocated literary sensations of our time. Enigma, because 'Elena Ferrante' is a pseudonym and no one other than her publisher knows her identity, Ferrante had published several novels before the Neapolitan series, but it is this cycle of four novels, culminating in The Story of the Lost Child (Storia della bambina perduta, 2014) that has made her international reputation.
Comparisons with the other great serialised novel of recent times, Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, are inevitable. As stylists, Knausgaard and Ferrante could not be more different. With My Struggle, Knausgaard eschews literary conventions such as linear story-telling and refined prose in pursuit of more immediate access to lived experience. In contrast, Ferrante dives so wildly headlong into her story that you wonder how she can possibly keep it up over 1,700 pages of prose. And yet there are affinities too: both are presumed to be works of autobiographical fiction, both chart the developing consciousness of a writer, and both pursue their subjects with an abandon that makes for thrilling literature.