Discussion Group: Style and Imitation in Elena Ferrante and Kazuo Ishiguro

This session of the Discussion Group wished to share some initial questions and observations arising from some early-stage research on Elena Ferrante and Kazuo Ishiguro. Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet and Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun are novels that revolve around the issue of imitation: at a thematic level, they depict female friendships where one or both parts emulate the other, until identity is confused (Klara, an AI programmed to act like a human friend and potentially substitute her owner, is a case in point); at the level of genre, both works imitate some aspects of, respectively, popular melodrama and science fiction, at times merging with them but then defying readers’ expectations. Additionally, Ferrante and Ishiguro are both writers of international bestsellers which have not only been translated in multiple languages, but are also, following Rebecca Walkowitz’ designation, ‘born translated’ in the sense that their authors, in writing for a global audience, have negotiated their culture(s) and language(s) of origin even before actual translation took place.

Given these premises, during the session we read together some short extracts from both novels to ask: how does this multiplicity, or conversely loss, of identity play out in the works’ style? The seemingly plain, direct and honest voices of the novels’ narrators may in fact disguise a carefully layered polyphony, or be, on the contrary, a standardizing channel which suits all. We pondered these questions as we compare Ishiguro’s and Ferrante’s attitudes to style, while taking into account translation as one of many levels of simulation.


Mariachiara Leteo has done her DPhil in English at Oxford as a member of the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation (OCCT) Research Centre, with a thesis focused on how different modernist notions of poetry variously influenced the prose style of Virginia Woolf and the Italian creative essayist Emilio Cecchi. She is interested in modern and contemporary writers’ theories of style and in the nexus between style and philosophical ideas across different cultures. While she prepares her first monograph, Poetic Effects in Prose: Virginia Woolf and Emilio Cecchi, Mariachiara gives tutorials in English and comparative literature, and she is currently designing a course on ‘Comparing Elena Ferrante and Kazuo Ishiguro’ for the Department for Continuing Education.