January 13, 2016 – Notes

 In attendance: Liz Clarke, Vivian Krone, Janice Loschiavo, Cathy Quinn, Lois Pagnozzi, Sharon Rome, Barbara Santillo, Tina Segali, Marilyn Sinisi.

Absent: Meta Pitrelli, Joan Swensen

Emeritus: Donna Sabetta, Jeri Stangl.

Book & Author: The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante.

Gathering around Janice’s dining room table, it was immediately apparent that the group was sharply divided about the novel in question. A large contingent LOVED the book and had continued on with the third and fourth installments of the tetralogy. A smaller number had a negative opinion of the book. The writer of the minutes had a difficult time eating, talking and taking notes simultaneously so there may be fewer specifics than usual.

Questions and notes regarding The Story of a New Name:

  • One of the recurrent complaints about the book is that, even with the list of characters at the beginning, it’s hard to keep track of everyone and whom they are related to.
  • It was agreed that the book transmitted a feel for what it must have been like to grow up in a poor neighborhood in Naples in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • A criticism of the book was that there weren’t any characters to care about, that they were all unlikeable.
  • It was hard for some to believe in the friendship between Lila and Elena, especially after Lila sleeps with Nino. It was said that this kind of betrayal would have ended any friendship.
  • Others believed that the bond between the two girls was so fundamental that nothing could break it, that it was considered a life-long attachment on both sides.
  • Elena’s sleeping with Donato was thought to be a way to even the score with Lila, since it gave her a sexual experience.
  • Language is an important element in the book, and is an indication of class and education. When Elena wants to be vicious or vulgar, she uses dialect. When she returns to her family and the neighborhood, it seems odd to them that she is speaking Italian instead of dialect.
  • One of the memorable scenes cited was when Lila rips her wedding photo so that she isn’t recognizable. She has a persistent desire to be erased, to be untraceable.
  • Lois suggested that Lila was bi-polar and certainly some of her behavior reinforces that supposition.
  • Elena’s last name was Greco (Greek), and her story is truly an individual odyssey.
  • The relationships between mothers and daughters were shown to be fraught with conflicting emotions. The young women of the stradone didn’t want to grow up to be their mothers.
  • Some have posited that Lila and Elena are two parts of the same person, representing an internal struggle; or Lila is the what that woman would be like if she stayed in the neighborhood, and Elena stands for the what the woman would be if she managed to get out.
  • The relationships between the men/husbands and the women/wives were weighted on the side of the men. The women were their possessions and if they wanted to beat them, or have lovers, and children with other women, they could so with impunity. There is a sweet moment when Lila and Elena are talking about how Nino has gone to England for the summer to learn English. Elena says to Lila, “oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do that, too?” But this was an opportunity not open to females.
  • The book underscores how poverty brands you. Though Elena was doing well in college, she realized that she would never know the things that children of wealthier families knew as if by osmosis.
  • Lila’s mother Nunzia says to Elena, referring to her husband (p. 215): “For your whole life you love people and you never really know who they are.” This just might be Ferrante’s take on many life-long relationships. A few pages later she remarks, “She (meaning Lila) chose a different path and one can’t go back, life takes us where it wants.” The choices and decisions we make effect all that comes after.

The book earned a 3.5 rating. Though those who liked it loved it, it was thought not to be a book for everyone.

Next Meeting: Wednesday, February 10, beginning at 5:00 p.m., at Barbara’s house in Teaneck. Once again, the theme will be Chinese and chocolate (for Valentine’s Day).

Next Book: To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, chosen by Marilyn. If you finish early, you might want to start March’s book, selected by Liz: My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout.

Submitted by Tina Segali

January 19, 2016