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16.6.14

À mon chevet: 'Storia del nuove cognome'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
Lila looked at the panel leaning against the wall, asked them to lay it on the floor. Marcello said cautiously, with the dark timitidy that he always showed toward Lila, "What for?"

"I'll show you."

Rino interrupted: "Don't be an idiot, Lina. you know how much this thing cost? If you ruin it, you're in trouble."

The Solaras laid the image on the floor, Lila looked around, with her brow furrowed, her eyes narrowed. She was looking for something that she knew was there, that perhaps she had brought herself. In a corner she spied a roll of black paper, and she took a pair of big scissors and a box of drawing pins from a shelf. Then, with that expression of extreme concentration which enabled her to isolate herself from everything around her, she went back to the panel. Before our astonished and, in the case of some, openly hostile eyes, she cut strips of black paper, with the manual precision she had always possessed, and pinned them here and there to the photograph, asking for my help with slight gestures or quick glances.

I joined in with the devotion that I had felt ever since we were children. Those moments were thrilling, it was a pleasure to be beside her, slipping inside her intentions, to the point of anticipating her. I felt that she was seeing something that wasn't there, and that she was struggling to make us see it, too. I was suddenly happy, feeling the intensity that invested her, that flowed through her fingers as they grasped the scissors, as they pinned the black paper.

Finally, she tried to lift the canvas, as if she were alone in that space, but she couldn't. Marcello readily intervened. I intervened, we leaned it against the wall. Then we all backed up toward the door, some sneering, some grim, some appalled. The body of the bride Lila appeared cruelly shredded. Much of the head had disappeared, as had the stomach. There remained an eye, the hand on which the chin rested, the brilliant stain of the mouth, the diagonal stripe of the bust, the line of the crossed legs, the shoes.

-- Elena Ferrante, The Story of a New Name (translation by Ann Goldstein), p. 118-19
This is the second volume of Ferrante's Neapolitan trilogy (see my post on volume 1), and it is just as absorbing as her other books. From their shared life as girls, Lila and her friend Elena (the author) take very different paths as young adults. Lila marries a wealthy man, and the large photographic reproduction that features in this passage becomes an emblem of both her success in life and humiliation. Lila's artistic transformation of this photograph draws some notoriety to her new family's business, another sign of the brilliance of Elena's childhood friend.

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