In her first novel since her cherished Neapolitan quartet concluded, the pseudonymous Italian author enters the mind of a 12-year-old girl named Giovanna, who at the outset of the book overhears a conversation between her parents in which her father calls her ugly. More specifically—though he denies the remark’s seriousness—that she is the kind of ugly possessed by the wretched aunt she knows only through reputation. In Elena Ferrante’s latest novel, translated by Ann Goldstein, Giovanna sets out to meet her aunt, who proves to be both as described and uniquely honest, and she encourages Giovanna to pay close attention to her parents just as their marriage begins to fail. As Giovanna grows into a young woman full of questions but bereft of trustable answers (if there are any), Ferrante portrays Giovanna’s inner life with the acuity her readers have come to crave.
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