GABBLER RECOMMENDS: THE “UNMASKING” OF ELENA FERRANTE by Alexandra Schwartz

 

‘Ferrante’s steadfast artistic choice to be anonymous can only be that: an artistic choice, made at the beginning of her writing career for private reasons that she deemed essential. The cost of anonymity is high; she told her publisher that she would do nothing to promote her books, and, indeed, they could well have sunk to the bottom of the literary river without a trace. That they succeeded, and reached the kind of audience they have, has happened, if anything, in spite of Ferrante’s anonymity, not because of it. Its costs continue. One particularly bizarre and offensive claim of Gatti’s is that his “exposure” of Anita Raja as Ferrante leaves “open the possibility of some kind of unofficial collaboration with her husband, the writer Starnone.” Ferrante’s anonymity has apparently now made her vulnerable to the accusation that she has not been able to write her books without leaning creatively on a man.

The only solace in this whole mess may be the character of Gatti. He, not Ferrante, seems to be the fictional persona, a puffed-up pedant straight out of Nabokov, right down to his Nabokovian name: Claudio the Cat, prowling around in search of secrets. Gatti is the kind of reader who sees “clues” in a writer’s work, as if she has constructed a puzzle to be solved rather than written a novel to be read. Even as he crows that Raja’s life shares almost nothing in its particulars with the world of Ferrante’s novels, he holds up as definitive a few corroborating crumbs: the fact that Raja’s aunt was named Elena, for example, or that Nino, the name of the man the character Elena loves, is the family nickname of Domenico Starnone. Like Charles Kinbote, the unstable narrator of “Pale Fire,” who takes it upon himself to “annotate” the final poem of his famous neighbor, John Shade, Gatti seems to believe that he can obtain power over a great writer by exposing her, not for the purpose of interpretation or greater understanding but simply for the sake of being the first to do it.’

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