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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Saturday, October 31, 2020


 An opera singer, Carla Canales, has an album out, Duende. It is mostly the Canciones españolas antiguas (big surprise!) in her own arrangements, with some interludes. I see from my email that she was in touch with me in 2016 about it. I'm sure I was not much help, because I take a skeptical and complex attitude toward the duende, rather than the usual American romanticization of it. It look from my email trail that Christopher Maurer put her in touch with me.  

Anyway, I am of two minds here. It is kind of like reinventing the wheel: These songs come up so frequently. I am even singing them myself with my voice teacher. Her approach is original, for sure. 


 My daughter gave me a book in the form a waffle, unusually shaped. There was a certain order in which it needed to be eaten in order to get the plot in the right configuration. That's what I thought at first, at least. Then it became clear that the actual printed book was found in the middle of waffle in a plastic bag. There were two possible readings of the book, one in the form of a fixed rhythmic pattern like a drum beat. The other I can no longer specify now that I am awake. 

Friday, October 30, 2020


 I saw a book presentation today by Menchu Gutiérrez, on zoom. It made me think a bit. There are writers I have been following for many years, but about whom I have had no conversations with any else. I haven't written about them either, so my experience is rather private. I did meet Menchu at an homage for Ullán several years ago, and she was surprised that I had read all her books, but largely my experience of her has been almost entirely a private one. What is odd about this is that she is one of my favorite novelists and poets, and I suspect she is a favorite of others too, but this experience is less a private one for the others at the presentation, many of whom knew each other.  

Thursday, October 29, 2020


A night of lengthy and intense dreams. 

 I was teaching and I asked a question. One kid shrugged his shoulders, and I called him out: "Don't shrug your shoulders; make an observation about the text." The other students applauded me. We were on zoom but I could see all the students, as though they were in classroom.

Then we decided to go for lemonade in a bar across the street. A woman in the class, older than the rest of the students, collected dollars bills from each of us to pay for it. I thought there would be tax so I tried to give her an extra dollar to cover that; she refused. In the bar I was attempting to pour lemonade into a huge plastic baggy on  the floor. Of course, most of it got on the floor and not in the baggy. I wondered how may dollars worth of lemonade I had spilled. An employee come over with a mop to clean up my spill...  

In the department office, there was a table with papers and junk on it. I took it upon myself to clean it up. I felt very virtuous in doing so, because others were standing around unaware of this mess. It seemed as though I wanted their approval. 


Dreams do not represent us at our best or our worst, but simply how we actually are in our own self-constructions. I am not better when I am cleaning up a mess than when I am making one. I am not a better teacher when students are applauding me. I am not even a worse one. 


Not a dream: I downloaded a dream diary by Nabokov on kindle: really just a sample that I didn't have to pay for. Of course, the sample consisted of all the preliminary material but none of Nabokov's diary. This has happened to me a lot. This is not a "sample" of the book, but simply an arbitrary number of pages at the beginning. In one case the sample was a long table of contents with none of the poem in the book. 


The dreamer interprets the dream. Even selecting the details to list, and giving the telling a certain "slant," is interpretive. There is no intention in the dream, in the sense of a conscious desire to say something in particular. There can be intention in the retelling of it. I could want to impress you, or show you my weakness, or skew the interpretation in a particular direction. The dream is not particularly enigmatic; its themes are usually desire and anxiety in the usual combinations.   

Monday, October 26, 2020

La coscienzia de Zeno

 I'm about half way through the Svevo novel. The neurotic narrator is a bit insufferable. There is a long chapter on quitting (not quitting) smoking, another on the death of his father, another on his courtship and wedding; now I am on a chapter on his early married life. The Italian is easy enough, but I am just not a good fiction reader. I get impatient. The novel is supposed to be psychoanalytic: the narrator writes at the insistence of his therapist. For all that, there is not a great amount of self-knowledge, at least in the way I define self-knowledge. His malattia always seems arbitrary. 

Zeno is in love with Ada; she is the only member of the family who doesn't like him. He is a comic figure and she is serious. Finally, when he asks her to marry him, she says no. Then he proposes to the sister; she also says no. Then, the same night, he proposes to the third sister, Augusta, who is already in love with him. Another foppish man marries Ada.

Dream of campus visit

 I was on a campus visit and having a very pleasant experience. The people seemed very interested in me and all I had to do was be myself. Someone mentioned Stan Lombardo and I started bragging about how I knew Stan, that he and Judy ran the Zen Center here. My interlocutor had translated the Aeneid with Stan, he claimed, but it was clear I knew Stan much better. When he started explaining to me what the Aeneid was, I cut him off.  

I was getting progressively excited and was even planning on accepting the job, only wondering about how I would imagine the commute from Kansas to Kentucky. It was obvious that my partner would not move to Kentucky with me. I didn't have many details about the job I was applying to, and thought of asking whether it would be in the English department. 

We were getting in cars to go somewhere else. It wasn't clear what car I was supposed to get in, but someone eventually said to get in the middle back seat of one of them. In the front passenger seat was X, a woman from the Slavic dept. of KU. 


As I awoke I realized that I craved the intellectual stimulation of colleagues. I could have this here, where I am, as well, but I don't because I am only on zoom all the time. The elements that were attractive to me were things that are already here: Stan and Judy, other KU faculty... The initials of the school I was at, UK, are the reverse of KU.  (It must have been UK because I had flown into Lexington Airport.)  

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Two Dreams of My Book

 I was in a bookstore; I picked up a book that seemed to be mine and put it under my arm. Then it wasn't there anymore. I picked it up again, and it looked like it was in Italian, not by me, but had cited me in the index. 


I got my book in the mail. It had no cover, or a brown cover (dust jacket) without any words or images on it. I thought it would be ok since libraries would throw out the dust jacket anyway. But I was going through the hall in my department showing this non-cover to everyone. 

Friday, October 23, 2020


 Predictably enough, my colleague in Italian dept tells me that Ferrante is low brow and has me reading Svevo and other things from the higher echelons. I'm reading Zeno now.  I must say it is more difficult but more rewarding. The first chapter seems to be about quitting smoking. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020


I went back and finished The Lying Life of the Adults.  I don't think it is a good novel. A lot of it hinges on the circulation of a bracelet that was supposedly a gift from the narrator's aunt to her, but ends up being given to other people in a way that is difficult to follow. After a while, I got sick of the damned bracelet as a narrative device. Is there a word for this? Is it Maguffin?  

The narrator accompanies her friend to Milan to visit Roberto, the friend's fiancé. The friend now has the bracelet, but leaves it behind in Roberto's apartment. So the narrator gets back on the train to Milan to fetch it. She is in love with Roberto, so that is the real motive. Roberto offers to sleep with her, but she doesn't. Then, in order to lose her virginity, at age 16, she calls another male friend. There ensues some of the most awkward sex and sex writing conceivable, and then the novel ends. 

Unlike in My Brilliant Friend,, the narrator/protagonist belongs to the Italian-speaking educated part of Naples, so there isn't the idea of escaping the rione. We can see that Roberto is the equivalent of a figure that appears in other Ferrante novels: the young, brilliant, handsome intellectual. 

I will go and read the other novels of the Brilliant Friend tetralogy, but I need a break now while I read something else.   


  I blurbed Daniel Aguirre's book from Toronto this year, and another Daniel in Tennessee (Daniel Nappo), asked me blurb a forthcoming book on Joaquín Sabina; I read it and provided the blurb. I've blurbed books I don't even remember anymore, usually just because someone asks me. Once I even had a very lukewarm comment of praise in a reader's report and the publisher wanted to use it. That's fine. I'm rarely effusive, so when I am you have to know I mean it. The strangest one was an author who said I didn't need to read the whole book. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020


 I read a book of essays by Kay Ryan, in one day. She likes Larkin, Stevie Smith, Frost, Moore, Williams, Dickinson, Bronk, Pessoa, Borges. I couldn't imagine her being into Rilke. There is a commonality in what she likes, but you couldn't necessarily predict it if you didn't know her work. It isn't exactly a narrow taste, more like something well defined: things that are precise, unpretentious, surprising. Her observations are insightful and always perfectly phrased. 

If I'm reading her criticism, I sympathize with her point view, see the poets from her vantage point. Since I like some of what she likes for similar reasons, I can get caught up in it. Of course, there are other things I like that she might not appreciate, and I don't share the Larkin enthusiasm.  That is kind of what you want: sharing a nice 30% of someone's else preferences.  

Friday, October 16, 2020

L'amica geniale

 Things are eventful in My Brilliant Friend. Elena goes not to the next level of schooling, a school specializing in classical education, Latin and Greek. Lila stops studying; she matures and all the men are after her. She rejects Enzo, then Marcello gets very aggressive, showering her family with gifts, including a television, which is a novelty in this neighborhood. Elena goes with the teacher's cousin to summer vacation on Ischia, sees Nino, and is sexually approached by Nino's father Donato, who will take her virginity in the second volume. She goes back to Naples to escape Donato. Lila turns to Stefano, the proud owner of a new convertible, to avoid Marcello. Stefano gets interested in the shoe business of Lila's family. 

Generally, there is economic growth in this period, with small business owners getting relatively wealthy. The Solara family with their bar (Michele and Marcello), The Carracis with their salami (Stefano), and Lila's family can cash in this with their shoes with the help of Stefano. We see he wants both Lila and her family's shoe business. He is renting the space next to the cobbler's shop to expand, and hiring employees, something which Fernandro and Nunzia, Lil'as parents, have never had. 

I should have read this before the 2nd volume, because now I am understanding who these characters are. My attention and patience waxes and wanes.

A scene: the ragazzi and ragazze from the neighborhood go to another posher neighborhood. They insult a woman wearing a silly-looking dress. Her boyfriend gets mad, one of the ragazzi hits him. They leave, but then run into the boyfriend again with a larger group a little while later; these richer kids have sticks and begin to take their revenge; but then a car with the Solara brothers, Michele and Marcello, drives up: Michele and Marcello get out and beat the rich kids with a metal rod. The poorer kids of the neighborhood don't like the Solaras, but they all join forces against the people from another neighborhood. So there are the poor people in the neighborhood, the small business owner-camorrista people, and then the world beyond.  The relatively wealthy, mafioso type people, have dirty money, from the black market days. They don't hesitate to use violence. 

Robert Arlt can use a Buenos Aires variant of Spanish to write his novels, but Ferrante cannot use Neopolitan, because it is actually a different language entirely from Italian. We only call it a dialect because it is not an official government / school / literature language. When it is important to know, she will tell us whether someone says something in Italian or in dialetto, but the languages have very different functions in this world. 


I have taught Gil de Biedma's "Apología y petición" in graduate courses. Invariably, they will say that it is "repetitive." Well, yes, it is, because it is a sestina, something that few students have ever noticed. They usually don't even now what sestina is in the first place. If you don't read the poem through its form, so to speak, then you won't get it: the language of the poem is flat and prosaic, its message is a straightforward denunciation of a political situation. So why do this in a sestina? That is the question that you have to answer in order to read the poem at all. There are varying answers to this question, but it seems to be that if you don't ask the question in the first place you are reading the poem as though it were just a political statement in verse. The end-words for the sestina generate the poem, they are words that are heavily charged: España, demonios, gobierno, historia, pobreza, hombre.  This is formally clever, but also could be read as a parody of Marxist discourse. Remember that the Communist Party didn't let Gil de Biedma join because he was gay, and that he defined himself as a "compañero de viaje" and someone whose politics stem from bourgeois guilt or "mala conciencia."   

In a book I blurbed recently, and which arrived in the mail two days ago,  The Ghostly Poetry: History and Memory of Exiled Spanish Republican Poets, by Daniel Aguirre Oteiza of Harvard, I saw that Daniel cites my discussion of Gil de Biedma from my 1994 book The Poetics of Self-Consciousness. I did not even remember my discussion until I read Ghostly Poetry  in manuscript form for U of Toronto P a few years ago. Now I am reminded of it yet again. Daniel notes that the "straight" reading of the poem is still prevalent. One example he cites is from Almudena Grandes--one of my least favorite writers for reasons other than this. 

Anyway, it is odd to think that, while my book is 25 years old and I don't think about it very often, it contains insights that hold up well and are still as relevant now as they ever were. The content-mining approach to literature, if anything, is more prevalent than it was when I was first approaching GdBiedma in the early 90s. I could go out today and give this chapter as a talk and change nothing.  

This book of mine rode the metaliterary mode of the early 90s in Hispanism. In this sense it might seem dated. But really, this is still the best of way of reading Gil de Biedma, ¿no es cierto? As far as I know, nobody else has cited my reading of Gil de Biedma, either. It took a Harvard professor who has translated Ashbery and Stevens into Spanish to even see the value of what I have done. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Siglo XX

 I told my students that I am from a different place than they are from, the twentieth century. They are natives of the twenty-first century. Literally, some are from the final years of the 20th, but their formative years are mostly from the current century. I always like to contrast "The past is foreign country; they do things differently there" (Hartley) with: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." (Faulkner) 

I had an assignment to have the students interview their past or future selves. It didn't work because they all had their 17-year old self and their 20-years old self, and there wasn't enough separation to make it interesting.  


 There was an old woman a in prison cell. I wanted to help her so when she left I unplugged an old bathtub that was in there, that was clogged by a kind of tea bag. It sounds gross but in the dream I was matter of fact about it, with no feelings of repulsion. I didn't have cleaning supplies to clean the tub once the water had drained. 

She had a song that she sang in Yiddish, but with an Italian word: "soldi, soldi, you are nobody without soldi" [money]. I was studying the text of the song and trying to decipher its language, that seemed like English with Yiddish words added.   

There was a prison guard, and someone I was with began hectoring the guard about the maltreatment of this prisoner. The guard dismissed our concerns by saying that she was lucky to have a cell next to these other inmates, perhaps richer than her. It seemed as though this guard, a very handsome young man with dark hair, was a "double agent." Somehow, I thought that my companion should ease up on the guard a bit, given the guard's possible double loyalties. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Dream of (not) skydiving

 There was an airplane flying. People, one by one, were being pushed out with no parachute. Falling down to the ground, each one was trying to think of a way out of the predicament. Some tried to clutch on to each other. My turn was coming up, but I thought that I would be able to avoid being pushed out. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020


It's perfectly fine to be a Laura Riding skeptic, or an Olson skeptic.  I am, for example.  (I also don't like Nina Simone or Abbey Lincoln. )There are certain doors that are closed to me. I think that's a little distinct from not liking any "difficult" art, music, or poetry at all, or having almost ALL the doors closed. Since others I respect are not skeptics of those figures, I have what I would call "second degree respect." I agree that you find some value there, even if I do not. I won't say you shouldn't like it. 

I tried to to find value in Zambrano, but ended up not getting very far. I even wrote an article about her. Even though I ended up a skeptic, after some initial excitement, I don't think of it as wasted effort at all. I just get put off by someone endlessly talking about poetic this, and poetic that, but in a way that never quite gets there. Yet I think that people who admire her are correct to do so.  


The relationship between Elena and Lila is dynamic. Since both are going through life development, in childhood and adolescence, and then in the early adult stage in the second volume, their relationship can never be static. Admiration, jealousy and rivalry, solidarity, intimacy and distance, are all variable factors. 

These observations aren't particularly insightful on my part. Probably *everybody* knows this about fiction. Yet Ferrante herself has written novels that don't have this dynamic quality. I don't think Almudena Grandes has this quality in the least, or is even interested in developing it. 

L'amica geniale

 There are some great scenes in this novel: when the two girls throw each other's dolls into some kind of gutter [?} and go down to try to retrieve them, then accuse don Achille of taking them...  When they skip school to try to find the ocean: they go through a tunnel into another neighborhood, a place which is menacing, but in exactly the same way their own neighborhood is menacing. They walk for hours, haven't planned for the need to eat or drink water. The sky darkens and it begins to rain copiously. Lila gives up, and they run back home. Elena gets a beating at home, but Lila's parents don't even notice that anything is amiss.  There's another scene in which the police come to arrest someone. This is supposed to be the most terrifying scene ever, but in this case it doesn't quite come off. Another weird description of Lila's state of mental alienation.  

What's great here is that Lila is not necessarily extraordinary in herself, but she is almost superhuman in the eyes of the narrator, but at the same time eerily vulnerable. The novel narrated from the point of view of Lila / Lina would not be as compelling, and Elena's account of her life is not quite as compelling either. It is not without interest, but we identity not with her per se, but we share her obsession with her genius friend. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Non committal

 Someone asked me about Gluck, in a gathering of mostly non-literary people. I said something non-committal, that she was ok for people who liked that kind of thing. It's a little hard to get worked up over the Nobel prize. If they happened to choose Gamoneda, of course, I would applaud, but other than that...

The prize belongs to a bygone era, when literature itself had a certain gravitas. Even when the prize went to a mediocrity, as happened many times, we felt that something had gone amiss. But really, now, we feel it just an arbitrary and inexplicable decision of an obscure committee.   

Friday, October 9, 2020

L'amica geniale

 I went back to start the Ferrante tetralogy from the start. The first volume is compelling in many ways, with the child's perspective on growing up in poverty and violence, seeing the school as a way out. By becoming academically brilliant, you can write a book, make money from this, and escape all of this squalor. This is what Elena manages to do eventually, but that is much more of a problem for Lina, who is academically brilliant [bravíssima] but also "cattiva." The two girls take an exam to get into the next level of schooling, I guess it would be middle school. Lina write a story, but the teacher is not too impressed, seemingly.  She is beginning to favor Elena over Lina, even though Lina is the more academically gifted of the two.   

Now, the two girls decide to skip school one day and go to try to find the ocean, which neither of them has ever seen...  

What to Listen For in Music

 I read a book with this title by Aaron Copland. Some of it is unexciting. I like the title, but often we don't get insight that is special in any way / different from what some other competent lecturer would provide. Maybe that would be expecting too much. The chapter one writing music for film gave me the most new information, and I will have to go back to the chapters on various musical forms and listen to the examples that he gives. He is very good on the fugue, and I will have to go back to that. I like how he divides modern music in to easy / hard / medium hard categories.    

What he is most interested in is the development of the capacity to follow longer musical structures, or "la grande ligne." I also liked the idea of "wheels within wheels," on other words, the structure of smaller parts following the same structural principals as larger parts, and of the work as a whole. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The New Last Name (conclusion)

 I finished The New Last Name. Now the story makes sense: Elena and Lila are alter-egos: they are best friends who take opposite directions in life. Lila is smarter as a child, but drops out of school and marries Stefano. After leaving him, she has a life of urban working-class poverty while living with Enzo, with whom she isn't having sex. Elena studies hard, gets her high school degree and then studies in Pisa, meeting Pietro, a brilliant classicist to whom she gets engaged. She never feels good enough for Pietro or his family, but then writes a novel that they help her to publish. She realizes that a text that Lila had written when they were children is the narrative kernel of her own novel. She takes a bus to the sausage factory where Lila is working... There is little cliff-hanger to bring us to the third novel of the tetralogy.  

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Narrative Problems

Lila finally leaves Stefano, disappears and is living with Nino in cheap apartment in the worst neighborhood of the neighborhood. Everyone thinks she is in Pisa with Elena, though there is no evidence of this. An article in the newspaper signed by Nino is really the work of Lila, as Elena recognizes on reading it. 

Their co-habitation only lasts 23 days. Nino leaves Lila. Eventually, we learn he is studying in Milan. Enzo, a character I hadn't especially noticed before, finds her and accompanies him back to Stefano. She tells her husband that she is pregnant and the baby is not his, but he seems to think she is lying about it. Now she just stays home instead of working in the family sausage shop, and sees nobody except for her mother and mother-in-law. 

The narrator makes a perfunctory remark about how she knows details what has happened, since she is narrating everything in the 3rd person: things she cannot have possibly known first hand. She says she has pieced it together from Lila's notebooks and from what other people have told her. I think people who like this kind of novel don't care as much about this kind of lapse of narrative technique as I do: to me it feels arbitrary to switch back and forth between two different types of narration, but yet have the prose texture  remain so constant. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020


 Someone was asking a party yesterday who wrote the words and music for the wizard of Oz.  I knew that it was Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, though it took me 90 seconds to come up with Arlen's name. Someone asked me how I knew this, and I had moment in which I was thinking, that of course I knew the songs of Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington Gershwin, etc... from the Ella Fitzgerald songbooks and from jazz versions of these songs.

 It's not the everyone should know all of this. I am ignorant of a lot of classic rock that everyone else at the party probably knows much better than I do, since I am on the younger end of this group and am not a rock fan per se. I don't even dislike classic rock and country from that period; I am just not an ardent fanatic of it.   

Bilingualism in Ferrante

Elena is in Pisa now; her Italian is very literary and yet inflected by her Neopolitan dialect; people from other regions of Italy make fun of her. One girl from Rome mocks her accent, and then accuses here later of stealing money from her. Elena slaps her hard and spits out a rebuke in dialect. The Roman girl apologizes later. Generally, though, Elena tries to ingratiate herself with her classmates and professors.  She has a Communist or Troskyite boyfriend, or male friend maybe, and goes to Paris with him, but he fails his exams and disappears. It is about 1963 / 64 by now. 

The presence of dialetto is strong in this novel, but we get almost none of it, maybe a dozen words in the whole book. We are simply told that somebody says something in dialect, but the words we see are an Italian, or a paraphrase. This is because the book is written for a larger audience, nationally and internationally. In Italian the presence of dialect would be off-putting; in translation is would be lost anyway. As a consequence the novel reads rather blandly.  Of course, I don't know a word of the dialect myself, so this makes the novel far easier to read. One marker of dialect, though, is the variation in nicknames. Elena is Lenu, Lenuccia, or Elena. Lina is sometimes Lila. 

Now we get an account of Lina and Nino's love affair, that the narrator cannot really know in this level of detail: the first-person narration shifts inexplicably to third-person omniscient. Now Lina is pregnant with Nino's child, and planning to leave the abusive Stefano. 

Generally, we have good story, with great narrative potential, with the main tension being the contrast between the reduced world of the neighborhood and of Naples, and the larger world of more educated people. The dialect is the marker of the rione, and standard Italian / Tuscan is the marker of the larger world where people are interested in politics and literature. Lina  is stuck in this neighorhood world, and not even Nino can rescue her from it, since how he is not studying as much spending all his energy being a passionate and obsessive lover to Lina. Elena has escaped Naples, but really doesn't now who she is yet, or how to make her way through 

The weakness of the novel is a kind of stylistic blandness and a propensity to tell rather than show. Also, a lack of narrative economy. I like the Balzacian scope, but I think a Balzac novel moves along faster. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Story Continues

 Elena has sex with Nino's father on the beach, losing her virginity, while Nino and Lila spend the night together. Stefano finds out about Nino and Lila's affair, with the predictable results: Stefano beats her again. Everyone goes back to Naples. There's some stuff about the neighborhood gossip that I don't really care about too much. A lot if feels perfunctory, like it doesn't really matter for the main story, which is the friendship of Lila and Elena. What makes the novel work is that we don't really know what's in Lila's mind, so there's an element of mystery, of information withheld. 

 Elena starts studying harder than ever; she is a tutor for younger kids and earns 70 thousand lire, she graduates top of her class and they tell she can study for free at a University in Pisa. She goes there and feels humiliated at the entrance exam, which is far more difficult than the high school graduation exams were, but they still let her in. Now she is 19. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020


 I was talking with Julia yesterday. She is listening to late Beethoven string quartets, and Shostakovich, two of her favorite composers. There's something about having an "adult child," to use a familiar oxymoron, that is satisfying. I can have a conversation about classical music and see the development of her mind, as well as my own indirect influence. She realized that the string quartet repertoire is huge and that she doesn't have to listen just to symphonies and brass concertos.  

My father loved the late Beethoven quartets too, but he died when Julia was 5, long before she decided to be a musician. I was a jazz nut for years but then came gradually back to classical music, though I never really disliked it. My expertise is limited, since I know some music really well but have huge gaps in my knowledge as well. If I get obsessed with something, then I will listen over and over, but I don't need to be obsessed about everything either.  

The New Last Name (cont)

 I'm about half way through this novel by Ferrante. My reading Italian is getting halfway decent. Now the main characters are at a beach community outside of Naples, possibly an island. The doctor has recommended that Lina / Lila get sun and surf to help her get pregnant, and she takes the narrator Elena / Linu with her. Linu is in love with Nino, who is now a university student. Lina borrows the complete theater of Beckett from Elena, and talks to Nino about it. He is impressed, even though he is not into literature.  It turns out Nino is in love with Lina, from the elementary school days, and tries to kiss her one day on the beach. She resists at first but a few chapters later they are in love with each other, to Elena's dismay. They enlist Elena help to spend the night together in a neighboring village, deceiving Lina's mother, who is staying with them at the beach house.  

There is a conversation about getting pregnant. Lina says she will not get pregnant with Nino because he will use a 'preservative." What's that? A thing he puts on down there (a condom). The young women have never heard of this. Plus, Lina / Lila doesn't think she can get pregnant anyway.  

Nino's friend Bruno is in love with Elena, but she isn't attracted to him. He comes from a rich family, so he mother would be overjoyed if she were with Bruno. Stefano's pregnant sister is also in love with Bruno, and has returned to Naples in order to remain faithful to her husband.  

For me the pacing of the novel is very slow, and the plot a little soap-operish. It's a bildungsroman, with Elena trying to find her path in life. Her main relationship is with Lina, her closest female friend. Her literary and intellectual vocation is emerging through her reading. Lina is highly intelligent (the amica geniale of the first novel in this series) but only has an elementary education. Elena is beautiful but doesn't know, it. Nino's father, a poet, tells her this. She has nerdy glasses and is too poor to dress herself well.  

I can understand why this sort of thing is popular. I'm not a particularly patient reader of realist fiction, and I know this novelist appeals more to women.  (Women read much more than men anyway.) So if it holds my interest it must be pretty good. It evokes a particular moment in history, with earnest young people talking about the atomic bomb and the human condition, Beckett, etc...