At last & with strange delay, y.t. has also embarked on Ferrante’s tetralogy. Many critics have pointed out that they’ve been bewildered by their own fascination with the lives of two girls in last-century southern Italy. This surprise has always [two times] struck me as at least strange and as at most fraudulent, basically a phony jumping off point for a humanist line of reasoning. Let’s be linear: it is strange because these are book critics who must have read dozens upon dozens of books [possibly novels] with exponentially more outlandish themes so that the imagined lives of two Italian girls should not strike them as particularly far-fetched. It is fraudulent, in as far as I don’t buy it, I see it as a weak set-up for then humanistically claiming [which is perfectly fine] that literature can make us interested in, even invested in people of totally different times & places.
What is one of the remarkable aspects of My Brilliant Friend is the ease with which intriguing, fleshed-out characters are developed and keep developing. Despite modern-day 3D cinema’s stunning feats of mimesis, one is starkly reminded that masterly prose projects imagination onto an ego-mythostalgic screen the silver one can never rival. There is Lenu, in my mind, reading piles of books but unhappy about how things stand with Lila.
The two friends at the center of the narrative, keep changing and re-adapting to the going-ons in their pandemonic social sphere in ways that are not simply compelling and believable but that inevitably drop us before an array of drippingly nostalgic questions: How did I used to deal with these types of situations? Or: Ahhhhh, that’s exactly what T used to do in third primary! Or: Bloody Devils, same thing happened to us in sixth, didn’t it?
Which is in extensive overlap with the next point: MBF is substantially an immersive re-experiencing of childhood and early teenagedom [leaving aside the ultimate incommensurability of individual experiences and memories]: its anxieties, its preoccupations, its unmediated bliss. Reading about dusty Naples, I flew back to verdant Hinterbramberg. But in this novel there are also the more down-to-reality developmental psychology gems:
I could only think: Yes! And then: But my sense of disaster has been televised!? …and yet all my very own nano-scale tragedies, the disasters I’ve been told about, the calamities witnessed at one remove have, cumulatively, instilled in me a baleful sense of the worst which forever lurks around if not the next corner then the one after that. Or still further down life but certainly along my road, up my alley. It gave me the feeling, reading MBF did, that all of this here and now will one day look like the very best of times, which they are, sans Fèngcì.
For the pathetic childless saps such as myself, there are the rich, surreal images of childhood, which conjure a limitless imagination, an infinite recombining of the trite elements of reality:
Better still, now and then when we find ourselves drowning in lakes of viscid nostalgia, Ferrante’s fictional proxy roars her head [what point-in-time from is the story told anyway?] and gives us a friendly slap across the readerly imagination. Reminds us exactly what time and place are under consideration/imagination.
– – –
But it’s not winter at all, obviously. And the fact is that is is a bit hard, in my truthful estimation, to be not writing about this stuff, this matter of fact when, every morning, like a provocative gunslinger, it’s blowing warm air in your face. As if even the weather itself, pissed off or something, had decided: Suck on this, anthropomorphic-climate- change-denialists! Which of course the inscrutable forces of weather are perfectly within their rights to do. Forces of weather.
According to vague recall, early december was the closest brush we had with winter proper, Father Freeze, when the temperatures dropped below zero [the celsius one], there was slush, frozen toes and fingers, a shuddering matinal inwards curse towards malevolent deities one only believes in at that very instant, more slush, a clear, hard sky that teases out thoughts of a similar nature, etcetera, Děng děng. Three days of this and enough desperation had accumulated for Bǐzhě [this here writer] to moronically splurge 170 clams on snow-slush- & icicle-proof shoework. To which the successful salesman happily quipped “Now winter can bring it on”. Which effectively it has not in the least.
This is not a complaint at all, mind you, even Floridian temperatures would be welcome. But still, you know, 15degree X-Mas kind of rouses the most somnolent climate-consciousness out of its hibernal burrow. You watch crosscountry-skiing on TV and the bloody country is still there, cross indeed: brown grass, stunted firs and dreary rocks, moraines et al. In Finland or some such other stronghold of talvi [winter] and perennial teeth-juddering: mitä vittua?! [wtf] Whereas here today now, gazing out of the window with zen-grade indifference, laid low by some nameless mid-winter paralysis, things are looking as though, Freud Alert!, all the snow that has been and is supposed to fall at some point or other has been, not pulverized but sublimated – a thick fog, like micro-snow, souses lucerne, lowering visibility to adjacent, unlovely appt complexes [yellow-brown to begin with; 6 apartments to a block is not that complex, in hindsight]. This is the floating, ghostly whiteness of a gothic graveyard haunting our city and it seems to me that somehow one should be able to conceive of it as lovely, as enchanting, as bewitching: sublimated snow… Instead, frigid and keeping the visible world at bay, it evokes standard brumal dread. Injecting these frozen words with only one flavor to be sucked: sourpuss.