Foreword Reviews

In the Margins

On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing

Fans of the bestselling Italian novelist Elena Ferrante will delight in her new collection of eloquent, revelatory essays about what motivates (and bedevils) her as a writer.

These Ferrante lectures, commissioned by the University of Bologna, were designed to be presented by an actress portraying the enigmatic, anonymous author. The first, “Pain and Pen,” describes her childhood writings, even reproducing some school compositions. She notes that, then, staying in the margins was crucial for good grades; it later became a metaphor for the disciplined writing that comes from years of reading and analyzing literature. She describes the satisfaction to be derived from “compliant” writing, but also how she craves the empowerment of impetuous writing, which flows from grasping a “thought-vision” and transforming it into words.

“Aquamarine” elaborates on this theme, describing continued struggles to achieve “an exact reproduction of reality,” including the discovery of literary techniques to best capture the fleeting “whirlpool of debris” that constitutes truth and reality. Ferrante’s critical analyses of her own work reveal how she starts with traditional literary genres, deforming them into complex, expressive works by employing impetuous writing and disrupting anticipated character developments.

“Histories, I” discusses inspiration from myriad women authors, including Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Maria Guerra. From them, she gleaned confidence to plow through the literary patrimony and forge new writing that roughens up expected narratives and oscillates between truth and lies. And the final essay analyzes Dante’s forceful prose and skill for pivoting with rapidity from his internal point-of-view to the perspectives of others. Ferrante expresses admiration for Dante’s fleshed-out depictions of his muse, Beatrice—a woman of intellect and authority.

The essays of In the Margins are illuminating and beguiling as they peek into the literary craft of a writer at the height of her powers.

Reviewed by Rachel Jagareski

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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