Summer Reads: Sarah Coolidge on Elena Ferrante and Marie NDiaye

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We’re having a July Summer Sale, with up to 50% off all Two Lines Press titles and back issues of our journal for as low as $2.

Here, Two Lines Press’s Sarah Coolidge discusses one of her favorite TLP titles, plus one of her best summer reads.

If you haven’t yet read Elena Ferrante, this summer is the perfect time to dive in, headfirst. Her four Neapolitan novels—My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child—are not only beautifully written, they are extraordinarily personal testaments to the female experience. Don’t be misled by blurbs that reduce them to a series about female friendship. True, the books center on the ever-evolving, contentious relationship between Lenu and Lila, two girls growing up in 1950s Naples. But the books could just as easily be described as a series about enemies. Or envy. Or coming to terms with womanhood in its full range—beautiful, repulsive, empowering, and self-effacing. But the book is not just for women. You’ll find that Elena Ferrante has an unprecedented talent for picking up on the ways that all of us maneuver through the world. And you’ll find yourself underlying lines that manage to put in words ideas that are so simple, so true, and yet have always eluded capture. Who is Elena Ferrante? Where does the fiction end and the autobiography begin? Not even her translator, Ann Goldstein, knows.

Just as elusive is Marie NDiaye. Anyone who hasn’t read this French writer of Senegalese descent is missing out on some of the best prose that’s out there today. Seductively restrained, poetically arranged, even a small book like Self-Portrait in Green, translated by Jordan Stump, will linger in your mind for months. The reclusive writer from France avoids autobiographical concreteness in her “self-portrait” by highlighting particular women she has known, who all distinguish themselves by inexplicably, eerily, always appearing dressed in green. We observe these women—friends, family members, and strangers—together with NDiaye, trying to piece together some sort of logic, but it always dissolves before we find clarity. Similar to Nabokov’s approach in his autobiography Speak, Memory, NDiaye picks and chooses so as to create patterns replete with literary symbolism from a reality that is always threatening to slip into fictional freefall. And after all, summer demands the blurring of life and fantasy. Lie in the sun with a book propped on your stomach and let these writers consume you.

You can get Self-Portrait in Green, plus 9 other Two Lines Press titles, for up to 50% off in our July Summer Sale. See all the details here.

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