The interest in the hidden identity of Elena Ferrante, author of the Neapolitan novels that have swept through the best seller lists, hit a boil this weekend, sending her titles soaring again on Amazon.
The real author behind the Ferrante pseudonym has rigorously kept her (or his) true identity private. She grants email interviews only and those exchanges pass through her publisher.
That only fuels speculation, and the latest, reports The New York Times, comes from an Italian author and professor who has conducted an historical and literary study of the books. He sets his eyes on a fellow professor from Naples named Marcella Marmo. Both Ms. Marmo and Ferrante’s publishers flatly deny it.
“It’s nonsense,” said the publishers and “I’m not Elena Ferrante,” said Ms. Marmo. Those predictable responses have not quelled speculation.
The Washington Post ‘s influential critic Ron Charles is a fan, calling it a “quiet miracle,”
“If you enter the theater of this novel, get set to weather some disorientation as soon as the lights dim … but stay in your seat and pay attention. Soon enough, all [Spiotta’s] literary chicanery comes into focus, creating a brilliant split-screen view of women working within and without the world of Hollywood.”
“Unfortunately, Innocents does not deliver on its ambitions … [it] turns out to be a lumpy, unpersuasive novel — enlivened by some arresting moments and thoughtful riffs, but ultimately a sort of hodgepodge of derivative scenes and ideas that have been cut together into a meaning-heavy montage.”
Entertainment Weekly, however, having listed it as one of “25 books we can’t wait to read in 2016,” follows with a review that gives it just a “B,” saying the “taught modernist” writing is ultimately “chilly emotionally.”
So far, all the attention isn’t grabbing reader interest. Holds queues are modest, but since libraries ordered very few copies, the ratios are high.
A bidding war is on to pick up the Scott Rudin production of Jonathan Franzen’s novel Purity (Macmillan/FSG; Macmillan Audio; OverDrive Sample), reports Variety. Daniel Craig is attached as the male lead Andreas Wolf, a charismatic trader of the world’s secrets à la Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
Showtime, Netflix, FX, and at least three others are each reportedly interested. Deadline, in a gossipy piece, says Hulu and Amazon are both in as well, but gives the early odds to Showtime.
The adaption is thought to be a 20-episode deal and will be written by both Franzen and the director of the project.
Purity, which is not widely considered Franzen’s best book (signature reviews in both the NYT and NPR were tepid), is timely however, touching on the seismic changes social media and the Internet have wrought.
After years of refusal, Nelle Harper Lee has agreed to a Broadway adaptation of her iconic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. That decision comes on the heels of her reversing an earlier stance that she would never publish another book and agreeing to last year’s publication of Go Set A Watchman.
Rights to Mockingbird have been acquired by well-known Hollywood producer Scott Rudin. He has hired Aaron Sorkin to write the screenplay, with plans for it to debut in the 2017-18 season. The two have worked together on many projects in the past, including the films Steve Jobs and The Social Network.
Lee’s literary agent Andrew Nurnberg, quoted in the New York Times story says, “While [Lee] had always had misgivings about anyone who might want to bring To Kill a Mockingbird to Broadway — and there have been many approaches over the years — she finally decided that [Ridley] Scott would be the right person to embrace this,” Nurnberg said.
This is not the first stage adaptation of the book. A 1991 play by Christopher Sergel has been produced by regional theaters, annually in Lee’s hometown and recently in London. Although it is true to the book, critics have accused that version of being plodding and static.
Horton Foote’s adaptation for the screen won an Oscar and was embraced by Lee. According to an interview with Foote. “The studio asked Harper Lee to do the script, and she didn’t feel she knew enough about dramatic form. I was her choice.”
How might Sorkin handle the material differently? Sorkin has a distinctive style, characterized by the NYT as “machine-gun spray of dialogue.”
While he tells the NYT that he feels resposibility to the many fans of the book, he adds, “You can’t just wrap the original in Bubble Wrap and move it as gently as you can to the stage. It’s blasphemous to say it, but at some point, I have to take over.”
Seth Meyers continues his Late Night literary salon on Wednesday, featuring Alexander Chee.
The Queen of the Night (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Blackstone Audio) is Chee’s second novel (coming out over a decade after the Whiting Award–winning Edinburgh). It is set during the Second Empire and Belle Epoque Paris and features historic and fictional characters.
As Slate summarizes it, the novel’s main character is:
“Lilliet Berne, a clever, glamorous opera superstar … she sweeps into balls singing show-stopping arias to thunderous applause, yet never speaks a word in public. Lilliet is offered a role written specifically for her by an anonymous composer—an enormous compliment, until she realizes that the opera is based on her own shadowy past … Only four people know her true story, and it must have been one of them who betrayed her. As she hunts for each of the four in turn, she recounts the picaresque sequence of transformations that brought her to the pinnacle of Paris.”
A young neurosurgeon’s account of facing his own death, it is followed at #2 by another new best seller, Pope Francis’sThe Name of God Is Mercy (PRH/Random House).
In fiction, Elizabeth Stout’s latest, My Name Is Lucy Barton(Random House; Random House Audio/BOT; OverDrive Sample) breaks through to number one, moving The Girl on the Train down to #3, which has just completed over a year on the list, most of that time in the top five. At #4 is an even greater phenomenon, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, on the list for 89 weeks.
“Hadley is so perceptive about the tiny ways we find ourselves performing for one another, and so skilled at fluidly dipping in and out of the minds of her characters—whether they’re 6 and wishing to spy on the grown-ups or 76 and considering the comforts of decades-long marriage—that it can feel like she’s revealing little secrets about life that it would have taken you years to notice on your own.”
“… for anyone who cherishes Anne Tyler and Alice Munro, the book offers similar deep pleasures. Like those North American masters of the domestic realm, Hadley crystallizes the atmosphere of ordinary life in prose somehow miraculous and natural.”
“In her patient, unobtrusive, almost self-effacing way, Tessa Hadley has become one of this country’s great contemporary novelists. She is equipped with an armoury of techniques and skills that may yet secure her a position as the greatest of them. Consider all the things she can do. She writes brilliantly about families and their capacity for splintering. She is a remarkable and sensuous noticer of the natural world. She handles the passing of time with a magician’s finesse. She is possessed of a psychological subtlety reminiscent of Henry James, and an ironic beadiness worthy of Jane Austen. To cap it all, she is dryly, deftly humorous. Is that enough to be going on with?”
“Hadley’s popular reputation, especially in the U.S., hasn’t caught up with her critical one. But this novel, which uses her much-praised perceptiveness and her fine-brushed prose to tell a story of familial secrets and tensions, may help her break through.”
Indeed. Holds are exceeding a 3:1 ratio by wide margins at many libraries we checked.
To catch up with the book, listen to this interview with Hadley, which aired earlier in the month on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.
In a profile yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reports that Goldstein, who by day is chief of the New Yorker magazine’s copy department, often draws packed audiences at events where she stands in for the author, who does not make appearances.
Goldstein tells the WSJ that she became attracted to writing translations in typical copy editor fashion, because it focused her attention. “I liked it as a way of reading,” she said, “If you have to copy down every word of something, you become very close to it.”
Describing her take on translation, Goldstein says,
“Sometimes, I think, it’s puzzle-solving. I want to make good English sentences but without losing the particular voice of the Italian writer. I can’t explain how that happens. I think it has to do with staying pretty close to the original.”
“Her name on a book now is gold,” says Robert Weil, editor in chief of Norton’s Liveright imprint (she translated the imprint’s enormous Complete Works of Primo Levi). Her upcoming projects include Jhumpa Lahiri’s new memoir In Other Words (PRH/Knopf; BOT), which was composed in Italian when Lahiri moved to Italy and decided to write in that language, and Frantumaglia: Bits and Pieces of Uncertain Origin (Europa Editions) Ferrante’s upcoming collection of interviews, letters, and other writing.
Her fame will only grow if circulation is any measure. Libraries still have active holds queues on all four of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, (Europa Editions).
Called one of the “hottest titles” heading to this week’s Sundance Film Festival, rights to The Fundamentals of Caring may be nabbed by Netflix, according to The Hollywood Reporter, with theatrical rights still up for grabs (which can be tricky, since the major theatre chains refuse to book films that will be streamed simultaneously).
Calling it a big, sweeping, Dickensian novel, the Slate critics, Meghan O’Rourke, Parul Sehgal, and Katy Waldman, jump into a conversation about the core of the novel and its message.
While the central character, a woman named Pip, should serve as the novel’s heart, all the participants agree that it is the mothers in the story that power its interest, saying that those characters offer a creepy sensibility that provides “a range of tones from horror to simmer” and become the most fascinating part of the story.
The group also discusses the portrayal of women and the ways the men operate in the novel, accusing Franzen of failing the Bechdel;Wallace test.
Each ends up recommending the novel, despite clear flaws, saying they admire Franzen’s ambition and his ability to identify questions readers need to address. However, they say that this is not the book to start reading Franzen – for that they suggest The Corrections.
Next month the book club will explore Lucia Berlin’s short-story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women, which was featured on a number of the year-end best books lists.
After stealing key scenes in Downton Abbey and wowing small girls in Cinderella, Lily James stars in one of the great epics of all time, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. She takes up the role along side another familiar PBS face, James Norton from Grantchester.
The two help lead the newest BBC historical drama (in partnership with the US based Weinstein company), which is set to air in the US on January 18th on no less than three channels, A&E, Lifetime, and the History Channel.
Reaction to the sexy, violent, and lush drama has been mixed at best.
“This is proper, proper costume drama at its most lavish and its most dreamily, romantically Russian. This is how you do it, people. This is how you do it. Stop all period dramas being made now because nothing is going to match up to this. Sunday-night TV has been rescued. It’s hard to imagine how the BBC could have done a better job. It makes Downton Abbey look like am dram. It’s tonally perfect, striking exactly the right balance between drama and wit, action and emotion, passion and humour.”
On the other hand, in their preview, Flavorwire says:
“It’s hard to say whether American audiences will take to a literary miniseries comprising six one-and-a-half-hour episodes, but any low ratings won’t be for lack of celebrity or sex or war or incest … it’s Downton Abbey with war scenes, which should be enough to draw and retain an American viewership … Still, based on a single episode, it seems unlikely that this production of War and Peace will reach the heights of the 1966-67 Sergei Bondarchuk version, or the 1956 King Vidor adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn … Anyway, shouldn’t you be reading the book?”
Oddly, War and Peace: Tie-In Edition to Major New BBC Dramatisation, Leo Tolstoy, (BBC Books) is not due to be released until Feb. 23.
Hitting a completely different note, The 5th Wave is coming out on Jan. 22nd.
An alien invasion movie based on the novel by Rick Yancey, it stars Chloë Grace Moretz, Matthew Zuk, and Gabriela Lopez.
Meyers and Yapa briefly discuss the novel’s story – one chaotic day during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle – and then turn to Yapa’s childhood growing up with a father who is a “Marxist professor of geography.” A native of Sri Lanka, Yapa’s father first arrived in the U.S. in 1964 and was amazed by the crowds that greeted his plane. It turned out that the Beatles also happened to be on the same flight.
In part two of the interview, Yapa reveals the heartbreak of losing his only draft of Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist and having to completely rewrite it.
Yapa’s appearance has yet to boost sales or holds of the book, which is getting largely positive reviews.
The Washington Post‘s Ron Charles says it is a “taut …fantastic debut” that “arrives like a punch in the chest” and goes on to compare it Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night.
The Rumpus says that “Yapa does a heroic job of journeying into the heart of this complex set of events, illustrating how they grow out of and impact the character’s lives. And while the heart may be the size of a fist, here it paradoxically seems to encompass the whole world and all of its citizens, who pulse with its every beat.”
Flavorwire offers “Your Heart is a Muscle The Size of a Fist is the rare contemporary novel about protest that has the courage to side with the protester — but does so skillfully enough to maintain its literary authority.”
NPR’s reviewer Michael Schaub offers a very different take, however. In a pull-no-punches review, he says “Yapa isn’t an untalented writer, but he lets his writing get away from him way too often … After a while, it begins to feel like you’re getting lectured by a hippie professor who writes messages for fortune cookies on the side.”