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Radio Drama: 'The Neapolitan Novels' Provides Easy Access to Ferrante Books

Released as an Audible audiobook, this BBC Radio 4 series gives those frustrated by "My Brilliant Friend" a second chance to enter the world of Elena Ferrante's popular novels.

Anastasia Hille (Lila) and Monica Dolan (Lena) star in 'The Neapolitan Novels.'

Easily one of the most ambitious multi-episode dramatic productions of the new millennium, The Neapolitan Novels series transforms Elena Ferrante’s sprawling, 4-volume saga about the lifelong friendship of two Naples women into an addictive aural experience. The 9 hour 27 minute full-cast performance covers the books:

Those who found themselves perpetually confused by the enormous number of characters (many boasting similar sounding names) when tackling the books themselves will still struggle a bit here, but the dramatization makes it infinitely easier to keep track of the most important personalities. Those truly put off by this are advised to snap up the HBO television series My Brilliant Friend based on the first book. Being able to put a face to a name helps tremendously. (Film/television adaptations of the remaining books are currently in the works.)


From the very first episode of the BBC audio drama covering the first book, we instantly find that we’re in good hands: there’s not an artificial Italian accent in earshot. Instead, director Celia de Wolff has opted for what sounds to the untrained ear like a working-class English one...arguably a close approximation class-wise to the denizens of the Naples neighborhood in which the bulk of this saga takes place. (De Wolff is also the director of the recent Radio 4 dramatization of In Search of Lost Time; she was shortlisted for the BBC Audio Drama Awards this month for the Proustian production - winners will be announced Feb. 8th. Timberlake Wertenbaker, who dramatized Lost Time, was also the dramatist for The Neapolitan Novels.)



Particularly effective here is having dramatic scenes from the past commented upon by now-grown-up friends Elena “Lena” Greco and Lila Cerullo forever locked in permanent – at times heated – conversation, even though the latter has gone missing. (Not really a spoiler as the first episode opens with this news.)


The Neapolitan Novels radio production easily lives up to Radio 4’s finest multi-part sagas (one’sput in mind here of The Cazalets). The 9-plus hour running time flies by, leaving us feeling as if we’ve virtually grown up not just with Lena and Lila, but all of the other denizens of their neighborhood, too. Perhaps the greatest compliment this series can be paid is this: It will likely compel those who initially abandoned the first novel to pick it up once more.

Availability: Audible

–Cast–

Lena.....Monica Dolan

Lila.....Anastasia Hille

Lila (child).....Grace Wingate

Lila (adolescent).....Chloe Harris

Lena (child).....Elisabeth McEvilly Lena (adolescent).....Daisy Tompkinson


–Author–

Elena Ferrante


–Translation–

Ann Goldstein


–Adaptor–

Timberlake Wertenbaker


–Director–

Celia de Wolff



Further reading

  • "In a rare interview, Elena Ferrante describes the writing process behind the Neapolitan novels." Los Angeles Times {link

  • Timberlake Wertenbaker: ‘I got to feel that nobody wanted me.’ The Guardian {link

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