As I’m currently reading her most recent novel, The Lying Life of Adults published in September 2020 and being a fan of many of her books to date, including My Brilliant Friend, The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love and Frantumaglia, I was interested to learn thanks to the publisher Europa Editions that:
Elena Ferrante has compiled a list of novels close to her heart, all by women authors, and exclusively for Bookshop.org, the new alternative to Amazon for socially conscious shoppers wanting to support high street bookshops when they shop online.
Given the type of characters and narratives Elena Ferrante is known for, her stories usually set in or have a connection with the working class neighbourhood of Naples and concern female protagonists coming to terms with their situation, whether they are girls, young mothers, grieving daughters or an adolescent trying to make sense of the adult world, I thought it would be interesting to know which authors she gravitates towards, who she has been influenced by and being Italian, she is likely to have read books that might be outside the common anglo reading mainstream.
I’m sharing the list here as an easy reference for me to look at and will link any of the titles I have already read to my reviews. I have read 13 of the titles, though only reviewed six of them.
I’ve also added the countries the author is associated with, either by birth and/or nationality, as I find that helpful, it being one of the criteria by which I decide whether to read a book or not – to avoid always reading works from the same cultural influence.
The list is quite Euro-American influenced, with only one African representation (or two if you count Doris Lessing), so while not quite as diverse as what I like to read, it’s an interesting exploration of the female pysche through female literature of the ages from those cultures represented.
I did also read that the list was limited by what is available in English and by what is available from the Bookshop, so there are titles that haven’t been shared because either they haven’t been translated into English or are not available. I wish they had been included because that might have sparked an even more interesting debate about the lack of availability of works in other languages and to hear the chorus of readers who might have helped persuade publishers to do something about that.
Juliana at The Blank Garden has more to say about that in her critique of the list (see the link to her blog post below), she is very widely read across languages, a wonderful reviewer and has read 28 of the titles. I’ll be referring to her favourites of Elena’s favourites as a further guide!
Elena Ferrante’s top 40 books by female authors
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria/America)
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Canada)
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Iran/Australia) translated by Anonymous
Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann (Austria) translated by Philip Boehm (German)
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin (US)
Outline by Rachel Cusk (UK)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (US)
A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio (Italy) translated by Ann Goldstein
Disoriental by Négar Djavadi (Iran/France) translated by Tina Kover
The Lover by Marguerite Duras (France) translated by Barbara Bray
The Years by Annie Ernaux (France) translated by Alison Strayer
Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg (Italy) translated by Jenny McPhee
The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (US)
Motherhood by Sheila Heti (Canada)
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (Austria) translated by Joachim Neugroschel
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami (Japan) translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (US/India)
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing (Zimbabwe/UK)
The Passion According to GH by Clarice Lispector (Ukraine/Brazil) translated by Idra Novey
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Mexico)
Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante (Italy) translated by Ann Goldstein
Beloved by Toni Morrison (US)
Dear Life by Alice Munro (Canada)
The Bell by Iris Murdoch (UK)
Accabadora by Michela Murgia (Italy) translated by Silvester Mazzarella
Le Bal by Irene Nemirovsky (Ukraine/France) translated by Sandra Smith
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates (US)
The Love Object: Selected Stories by Edna O’Brien (Ireland)
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor (US)
Evening Descends Upon the Hills: Stories from Naples by Anna Maria Ortese (Italy) translated by Ann Goldstein & Jenny McPhee
Gilead by Marylynne Robinson (US)
Normal People by Sally Rooney (Ireland)
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (India)
White Teeth by Zadie Smith (UK)
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (US)
The Door by Magda Szabò (Hungary) translated by Len Rix
Cassandra by Christa Wolf (Poland/Germany) translated by Jan van Heurck
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (US)
Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (Belgium/US) translated by Grace Frick
Critic of the List: Elena Ferrante’s Shopping Advice | Reading Project
Article, Guardian: ‘This is revolutionary’: new online bookshop unites indies to rival Amazon
Article, Guardian: List by pseudonymous author of Neapolitan novels includes Zadie Smith, Sally Rooney and several Italian classics
I’m quite shocked at how few from this list I have read: yes I noticed the article in the Guardian but haven’t even finished that yet. Hooray for Bookshop though. I hope it dents the stranglehold of Amazon, and achieves its purpose of helping independent bookshops.
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Yes I agree there needed to be a collaborative response and alternative to the mere convenience of Amazon. Many wish to support independent bookstores and this should help.
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Wonderful list! How have I not read Lessing’s The Fifth Child??? I am surprised E. Annie Proulx didn’t make the cut. So many books to explore here. Thx for posting.
Claire, thank you for sharing this list, I didn’t know about it. Extremely interesting and I’ll add so many of these books to my reading list. I hope you are well, and i continue to appreciate that you write these wonderful posts – I’m so glad I’ve been following you all these years!
Great post, Claire! I also wish that they had included the books that were not available, it would have made the list feel more personal – and, as you said, it would have sparked conversation over unstraslated or lesser known gems. But now that you mentioned, I can see that all of the books listed seem to deal, in a way or another, with Ferrante’s focus on the experience of women (and, particularly, working class women). Thank you for linking my post! 🙂
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Thanks Juliana, it did feel like a few may have been added to make up for those that couldn’t be on the list due to their lack of accessibility or availability, happy to have your post and links there as an additional resource!
No surprise that I’ve already read her latest, and I loved it — all of which gives me even greater appreciation for this list.
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Have you read Frantumaglia Deborah? I almost wish she written that after this, so it could also have included her inspiration for this latest novel, although it does talk about her adolescent influences, Dido the Queen of Catharge and the like, lots of Greek tragedy!
Lots of new works ere to explore, really happy to see Nemirovsky on the list, my all time favourite female author, Suite Francaise is the final book I need to read, it’s been sitting on shelves in two continents ready for a rainy day.
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I’ve read a few of hers too and loved them all, but I haven’t read the one on Ferrante’s list! Must remedy that. Suite Française is excellent. Lucky you, to have it still to read.
I now face the dilemma of read it and have no new Nemirovsky to read again, or to wait and savour it, whilst being paranoid that I may never get to read it. First world problems!
I must confess, I do buy books at amazon…price. I realize Independent book shops can’t bring the cost of a book down to compete with amazon. If one can afford the $24.99 of a book then yes, support Independent book stores 🌺
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Yes, in the first few months after a book is published prices are always expensive. I do use Amazon for e-books as I have a kindle, a less expensive alternative. And thank goodness for netgalley.
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