In this modern translation of a portrayal of domestic life, Forbidden Notebook centers on the inner life of a dissatisfied housewife. Valeria Cossati never suspected how unhappy she had become with the shabby gentility of her bourgeois life—until she begins to jot down her thoughts and feelings in a little black book she keeps hidden in a closet.
What might have been a family story, with all its betrayals and unhappy detours forgotten, becomes an excruciating study of the diarist herself ... Ann Goldstein, who translates Ferrante’s writing and has a particular skill for conveying the full power of a woman’s emotional register, for locating an undertow of wrath or grief even in stated ambivalence, has reinvigorated the text.
It is the very smallness of Forbidden Notebook’s scope that makes it so powerful. It was originally published as a serial in the weekly magazine La Settimana Incom Illustrata .... Reading it, I often imagined what it would have been like to encounter these installments in real time, perhaps reading them at a kitchen table, in a cramped apartment, after the rest of the household had gone to bed—in the very same kind of moments that Valeria spends writing in the notebook.
Its voice remains lively and compelling (despite some jarringly odd decisions by Ms. Goldstein), and the subjects depressingly perennial: the battle between motherhood and self-actualization; social control over women’s bodies; unpaid emotional and domestic labor; the forces of progress pressing up against the ceiling of convention ... Over half a year, the story unfolds with smoldering intensity as we come to realize that each of the four family members nurtures his or her own illicit secret ... This is a brilliant, quietly tumultuous book and a welcome revival of an author too little known in the anglophone world.