On working with Elana Ferrante

The magnificent Merve Emre with a wonderful essay on working with the mysterious and demanding novelist.

Part of me wishes I had never pursued her. She eludes me, scolds me, ruins my pleasure in having written thoughtful questions. She has made me self-conscious, exasperated. The entire time I have been writing this piece, I have felt a prickling sense of guilt. Ferrante wrote at the outset of our correspondence that she does not like it when a text is taken as an opportunity for talking about something else—the author, her readers. “I prefer work that concentrates on the page,” she writes. “A good critical work says to the reader: here’s where the author started from, here’s where he wanted to take me, here are the means he used, here are the goals he was aiming for, here are his debts to tradition, here’s why I liked or hated it.” I hear in this an implicit injunction, a command. I worry that I have behaved irredeemably.

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