The certainty of the present moment, the certainty of change

Why I appreciate Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels

For a year, I’ve been pacing myself through Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. They’re as good as you’ve maybe heard they are. Others have explained why this is so for them; one thing in particular stands out for me.

Sometimes—usually?—you feel certain that things will remain largely as they are, continuing along a predictable path. Life is how it is—how could it change? Continuity feels certain.

But then—inevitably?—things fall apart. And as things fall apart, you feel uncertain, yes, because things are changing, but in dark moments you can also sometimes feel sadly certain that these dark moments will continue. It’s hard to envision life any way other than it is at that moment.

Again and again throughout her novels, Ferrante portrays this transition well. We struggle to imagine life any way other than it is at the moment; then, just as inevitably and with a similar certainty, it changes.

That this happens so often is a hard lesson to learn. But Ferrante consistently portrays this transition with a kind of detachment that implies its inevitability. This is something, perhaps, in which to take comfort during those times of trouble: certainly it feels as if the present moment is a difficult one, and likely it feels that such difficulties will continue; but, with similar certainty, things will change, and likely for the better—if only for a time.