The unmasking of Elena Ferrante’s alleged true identity is only likely to increase sales of her books, booksellers have said.
Following an investigation into the Italian publisher Edizioni’s accounts, the identity of the author of the Neapolitan Quartet series, published in the UK by Europa Editions, was revealed over the weekend by journalist Claudio Gatti be freelance translator Anita Raja, although neither Raja nor Edizioni have confirmed if he is correct.
While some in the literary community, including Ferrante’s publisher, have reacted with anger and frustration to the unmasking, arguing it is an invasion of privacy, retailers have told The Bookseller that far from hampering sales of the books, the revelation is only likely to increase them.
Chris White, fiction buyer for Waterstones said: “I can completely understand why Ferrante and her publishers would have concerns over the revelation. The importance they both attach to anonymity is demonstrated by the remarkable success they have had until now in maintaining the secrecy of her identity. Assuming this proves to be true, I do feel sorry for the author. If there is a consolation I suppose it is likely that the news will bring more people to her work.”
Simon Heafield, head of marketing and brand development at Foyles, said he expected the series to “continue to sell well for some time”.
“Our customers have fallen in love with Elena Ferrante’s books without knowing about their author, and the feedback we’re seeing through social media is that many are upset that her identity has been revealed against her will,” he said. “There’s been a slight increase in the sales of The Story of a Child - Part IV - over the weekend, but we expect the whole series to continue to sell well for some time.”
Meanwhile Zool Verjee, head of sales at Blackwell’s in Oxford, said interest in Ferrante was “stratospheric”, and news of her alleged true identity will “intrigue even more people to pick up her books”.
“The news does just go to show that the world of books has the ability to generate some astonishing stories which capture people's imaginations ,” he said.
Print sales of the four Neapolitan Novels in the UK have totally 372,760 copies for £3.92m according to Nielsen BookScan. The first in the series, My Brilliant Friend, is the highest-selling of the quartet, shifting 194,107 copies for £2.07m in the UK, followed by The Story of a New Name selling 74,369 copies for £774,323, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay shifting 55,500 units for £570,852 and finally The Story of the Lost Child, which has sold 48,784 for £506,842.
Worldwide, 2m copies have sold in 39 countries, according to Edizione.
Ferrante's editor Sandro Ferri has criticised the unmasking of Ferrante by Gatti, by Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore and and the New York Review of Books in the US. “We just think that this kind of journalism is disgusting," he told The Guardian. "Searching in the wallet of a writer who has just decided not to be public."
However, Gatti has defended his decision, saying: “Millions of [Ferrante's] books are bought by readers. In a way I think readers have the right to know something about the person who created the work."
Yesterday (3rd October) added to BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I did it because she was a very much public figure."
The literary community has also responded with concern to the event. Author Jo Jo Moyes tweeted: “Surprised how angry I feel at @NYBooks’ unmasking of Elena Ferrante, esp its ‘justification’ her success made it ‘inevitable’."
Meanwhile, Suzanne Baboneau, managing director of the adult publishing division of Simon & Schuster, told The Bookseller: “I was so sad when I read it. The publisher has worked so hard to protect her identity, let the books speak for themselves. It is a real shame, and to go down the financial route, a person’s finances is a deeply personal thing.
“Why do we think everything needs to be exposed these days? It was a wonderful revelation in today’s times that you do not have to have an author on twitter, appearing on the Graham Norton show or doing the festival rounds in order to sell that many copies, which is refreshing.”