Before the Neapolitan Quartet, There Was Sula
The condition began affecting legions of people in the United States in 2013 and has showed no signs of letting up. Once infected, readers were all too eager to spread the disorder to their family, friends and innocent strangers browsing their local bookstores. In 2015, it was at its height and no vaccine could slow it. Ferrante fever had become an epidemic.
The Neapolitan novels, a four-part series by the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, follow the lives of two young girls, Elena “Lenú” Greco and Raffaella “Lina” Cerullo, as they grow up in a poor and violent neighborhood of Naples, Italy. The books have been lauded for their representations of female friendship and intricate class dynamics. Molly Fischer wrote in The New Yorker that, though there have been other books that focus on female camaraderie, “In depicting a friendship formed in childhood rather than in adulthood, Ferrante’s books find the freedom to press friendship—as a relationship, as the organizing principle of a story—in a direction unlike these others.” More recently, New York Magazine listed the novels as part of the 21st-century literary canon, while Cosmopolitan called the first novel in the series one of 12 books every woman should read before they turn 30. Last month, Ferrante herself announced that Maggie Gyllenhaal would be responsible for adapting her novel The Lost Daughter into a film. A limited series adaption of the first Neapolitan novel, My Brilliant Friend, premiered just last night on HBO.
But before Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels existed, there was a novel by Toni Morrison called Sula, which told the tale of two childhood friends named Sula and Nel who lived in “the Bottom,” an African-American neighborhood in Ohio, in the 1900s. Like the Neapolitan novels, Sula explores the complexities of female friendship, the pushes and pulls of best friends who double as rivals forever in competition with one another, and it is this commonality that lends the two works to comparison.[........................]