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This article is taken from PN Review 62, Volume 14 Number 6, July - August 1988.

The Novels of Elsa Morante Tim Parks

As I write, Elsa Morante's La storia (History), first published in 1974, has been topping the bestseller lists in Italy for the past two months, thanks to a television dramatization. But even before the book's reduction - for in this case it could be nothing else - to the small screen, a survey run by Corriere della Sera in 1985 showed that La storia was the best loved and most widely read of all contemporary Italian novels. Unlike some of her fellow Italian writers, however, Morante's popularity has not travelled well, or at least not to Britain; La storia and L'isola di Arturo (Arturo's Island) have been published here, though without great success, while her magnificent last novel, Aracoeli, has appeared in America, but not so far in Britain. The reason why these long and ambitious books should have failed to capture the attention they deserve is something that I hope will emerge from this article.

Morante's subject, to pare it to its baldest, is the fairly common one of the child, every child, who grows up, grows away from the beauties and innocence of infancy to the complications and very often horrors of adult life, of consciousness, of history. Yet there is one element which immediately distinguishes her from the many other writers who have told this story, and that is the extreme intensity, whether joyful or painful, with which this transition is evoked, and then the extent to which the hero remains, will always remain, ...


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