The Story of a New Name is the second book in the Neopolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante. I read the first part, My Brilliant Friend, in the summer and really enjoyed it. So I rushed out and bought books 2 and 3, then for some reason didn’t get round to reading them. Since reading The Story of a New Name I have also bought the final book in the quartet.
The Story of a New Name is set in Naples in the early 1960s and continues the story of best friends Elena and Lila. It starts where the previous book left off – on Lila’s wedding day, at the age of just 16. Lila has married into money and suddenly she is Signora Carracci (the new name of the title) and acting the big lady in the neighbourhood. She is variously liked, disliked, feared and envied by everyone in their poverty-stricken neighbourhood. But marriage isn’t all Lila had hoped for and it’s not long before she is looking for an escape.
Meanwhile, Elena continues her studies. She is excelling at school, but isn’t sure where she is going. She has a boyfriend but loves someone else. As she goes further in her studies, she finds she doesn’t fit in anywhere – too educated for the neighbourhood, but too rough for her fellow students.
The story follows Elena, Lila and the families of the neighbourhood from when the girls are 16 through to their mid-20s. Lila can be spiteful to everyone, including Elena, and it times she drives her away. But the bond between them is too strong and they always get back together. They need each other and support each other through tough times.
Although the author is called Elena and this is narrated by Elena, this isn’t a true story or an autobiography. We actually know very little of Elena’s family – the story focuses far more on Lila’s family, her inlaws and the most powerful family in the neighbourhood – the Solaras. Together, the three families own businesses, marry each others’ siblings and lie and cheat to outdo each other.
This is the world Elena’s studies could help her escape. But can she ever fit in anywhere other than her neighbourhood?
I loved The Story of a New Name. It is such an atmospheric book and the characters, particularly Lila, are so complex and flawed. It took me a long time to read it as it’s not a page turner or an easy read, plus I had a lot of work on. In terms of the time it took me to read it, it’s second only to The Mirror & the Light this year.
If you enjoy an atmospheric story and like to experience different times and different cultures in your reading, I would definitely recommend The Story of a New Name. Although you could read it as a stand-alone novel, it would make far more sense to read My Brilliant Friend first – the Neopolitan Quartet is not a series you can read in the wrong order.