The recent efforts by journalist Claudio Gatti to uncover the identity of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante have been gross. The desire to learn more about Ferrante arises from the fact that many readers have engaged strongly with her art, but in no moral system does this engagement trump the stated desire of the author to remain anonymous.
Gatti has cited the publication of Frantumaglia as one justification for his work. The book, a compendium of interviews and correspondence, contains, among other things, many contradictory statements, and the admission that Ferrante sometimes lies to shield her identity. But about private matters, Ferrante is entitled to be as untruthful as she wants; she creates novels, not governmental policies. More persuasive has been the appearance of early reviews that critique the book for its obvious hypocrisies. Ferrante sometimes frames her pseudonymity as expressing a belief that a novelist’s work ought to speak for itself – in one interview collected here, she claims that “real books are written only to be read” – whereas this author-centric text suggests otherwise.
To engage in self-mythologising is not a crime, but in these many interviews the author does come off best when she keeps it clean and simple. “Finally,” she writes, 13 years ago, “I have a life, both private and public, that is quite satisfying. I don’t feel the need for new equilibriums. I prefer that the corner for writing remain a hidden place, without surveillance or urgency of any type.” Who could argue with an explanation this sensible?
Nearly four hundred pages of interviews and correspondence can be a slog, even if you love Ferrante’s steely, gripping, clever novels. Indeed, the book includes correspondence regarding the proposal to gather and publish these very pieces in which the author perhaps wryly notes, “it shows a lot of confidence in the good will of readers”.
Let’s extend this goodwill. If you love an author, and you’re lucky enough that she is rather famous, you can often find collections of journals, papers and ephemera whose interestingness is likely to vary. Certain readers will find much to like about Frantumaglia – a Neapolitan dialect word meaning “bits and pieces of uncertain origin”. Others may wish to buy it as a sort of totemic manoeuvre, asserting that authors are allowed to be walking contradictions, rather like journalists, publishers and readers. CR
Text, 382pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 5, 2016 as "Elena Ferrante, Frantumaglia ". Subscribe here.