The Story of New Name is the second novel in Elena Ferrante’s four “Neapolitan novels.” This work takes Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, the two main characters, and moves them from adolescent to young adulthood.
There is little to prepare the reader for Ferrante’s work. She is unflinching and completely devoid of fear. She writes honestly and brutally about her world – post-war Naples. In the process, she has written a book that is at once beautiful art, and also, a kind of journalism. Naples is on trial in this work, and the characters face the harsh reality of what their region, and country, offers and fails to provide.
Everyone was poor in the first novel, My Brilliant Friend. Now a measure of prosperity comes to most – especially Lila. But this fails to bring her any lasting satisfaction. She is a sixteen year old wife who is raped by her husband on her honeymoon. Her fierce determination to be herself eventually leads her to the very margins of Neapolitan life.
Elena, or Lenu, on the other hand, goes to college in Pisa. She discovers that while becoming more Italian, and less Neapolitan, she is really neither. Even the language is at war. Those who speak dialect, local people, the lower class, who are not educated, are measured against those who speak Italian, the spoken and literary language of modern Italy. How we view ourselves, and how we are viewed, often through the lends of dialect and Italian, is a prime concern in Ferrante's writing
For Lenu, we get a glimpse that writing may save her; that her fractured identity may be healed. But on this, we are far from sure.