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Although Elena Ferrante is one of today’s most prolific writers, her identity remains a mystery. The Italian author writes under a pseudonym and insists that her anonymity is a precondition for her work.

With the publication and subsequent translation of her book My Brilliant Friend in 2011, Ferrante’s works became international sensations, especially the other three novels that follow in the “Neapolitan quartet.” Several have also been adapted for film and television.

In this post, we present 9 essential Elena Ferrante books to add to your reading list so you can discover what all the much-deserved hype is about.

Elena Ferrante Books

Below are 9 essential works by Elena Ferrante that will live in your thoughts long after you’ve turned the last page.

1. My Brilliant Friend

Let’s start with Book 1 in the “Neapolitan Quartet,” which is now a critically acclaimed HBO series. Set in post-war Naples, My Brilliant Friend introduces us to the fiery Lila and our bookish narrator, Elena.

The two girls meet as 10-year-olds, and Ferrante’s four-part saga follows the course of their 60-year tumultuous friendship as Lila and Elena become women, wives, mothers, and leaders.

As the two grow and embark on their own paths, their neighborhood and country also undergo pivotal transformations.

2. The Story of a New Name

Book 2 of the Neapolitan quartet follows Lila and Elena through their later teens and into the trials of adulthood.

Now married, Lila makes her entrance into the family business, but her marriage appears to have imprisoned her. Meanwhile, Elena continues her studies, but the pressure to excel seems at times too much.

Still, the two young women share a complex and evolving bond that gives them strength through life’s challenges.

3. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

In Book 3, Elena and Lila have grown into womanhood. Lila now has a son; she has left her abusive husband, but also the comforts brought by her marriage, and now must work as a common laborer.

Elena, on the other hand, has finished her degree and published a successful novel. She’s left the neighborhood and unlocked many of the opportunities that were opening up for women in the 1970s.

Although life has taken them in vastly different directions, Lila and Elena remain very much bound to one another.

4. The Story of the Lost Child

In the final Neapolitan novel, Lila and Elena each have their own lives, with their own husbands, lovers, aging parents, and children.

Elena escaped the neighborhood and moved to Florence, where she wrote several more successful books. But now, she is drawn back to Naples to be with the man she’s always loved.

Lila has never left Naples, though she is now a successful entrepreneur. But her success brings her even closer to the nepotism, chauvinism, and criminal violence that plague her neighborhood. 

Still, Lila is an unstoppable force, and her role as an unacknowledged leader in the world she’s always rejected but could never leave comes to focus.

5. The Lying Life of Adults

Ferrante’s latest novel follows Giovanna, who, like Elena and Lila, lives in Naples—but high up in a refined neighborhood with her educated parents.

Giovanna moves between the “Naples of the heights,” with its mask of refinement, and Naples of the depths, with its excess and vulgarity. Neither city seems to offer answers or an escape.

6. The Lost Daughter

Alone for the first time in years, Lena takes a vacation in the Ionian coast after her two adult daughters move to Toronto to be near their father.

Leda soon finds herself intrigued by Nina, a young mother on the beach. After Nina confides a dark secret, a seemingly trivial occurrence leads to events that could destroy her family.

The Lost Daughter was adapted for film and released in 2021. It is directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal and nominated for several Academy Awards.

7. The Days of Abandonment

After 15 years of marriage, Olga’s husband leaves her for a younger woman. With two young children to care for, she finds it increasingly difficult to do the things she used to, the things she dedicated her life to for all those years: keeping a spotless house, cooking meals with creativity and passion, resisting the urge to swear.

When Olga finds herself literally trapped in her high-rise apartment, she is forced to confront her own demons, the potential loss of her own identity, and the possibility that life may never be the same.

8. Troubling Love

In Ferrante’s debut novel, a woman navigates the streets of Naples after her mother’s mysterious death, searching for the truth about her family.

A series of strange phone calls leads her to compelling and disturbing revelations about her mother’s final days and the men that were in her life, both past and present.

9. Incidental Inventions

For one year, Elena Ferrante penned a weekly column for The Guardian, contemplating everything the editors threw at her, from first love to climate change.

In this collection, readers can discover those ruminations and take a peek inside the mind of one of today’s most skilled and brilliant writers.

Reading Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante’s books have been translated into over 40 languages, and several have been adapted for film and television.

From gripping bildungsromans to psychological thrillers, Ferrante’s work is something to behold if you love great storytelling and beautiful writing.

Have you read any Elena Ferrante books? Share your thoughts on them in the comments below!


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