The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante is the second part of the Neapolitan quartet, after My Brilliant Friend. And like the first book, I found this to be a riveting, unsettling read. Ferrante is fearless is looking at human relationships, whether it's female friendships, family relationships, or marriage. At no time does she soften into romanticism. Even when things are going well and characters are connecting, there's always an undercurrent of something jarring, whether it's discontent or fear. She's also got a devastating way of illustrating the levels of social strata that can have so much effect--terrible effect--on the people involved in them.
When we left off in the last book, Lila had just gotten married at the age of 16, while Elena is still in school. In this book, their lives' trajectories continue to move into different realms; Lila is trapped in a miserable, abusive marriage, while Elena not only finishes high school, but finds a way to attend university, something not at all common for a woman of her poor background and means. But that doesn't mean all is well with Elena, or that all is horrible with Lila, nor does it mean they become completely separated and unaware of each other.
There's so much I'd like to discuss about these books, but I can't think of a way to do that without giving spoilers. I will say that I think the blurb on the cover of this edition, from critic John Freeman, is very apt: "Imagine if Jane Austen got angry and you'll have some idea of how explosive these works are."
I will also say that while I usually love Europa editions, these covers are dreadful. Look at that photo. Even though part of it is in black-and-white, doesn't it seem rather sweet and romantic? These books are anything but sweet and romantic. And now, I'm ready for volume three.