A young American studying in Naples falls head over heels in Heddi Goodrich’s atmospheric coming-of-age novel. Set in one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, she paints a heady portrait of the notorious Spanish Quarter and the ecstasies and torments of first love.
TEXT: CLAIRE WEBB | MAIN PHOTO © DAVIDE GABINO
Southern Italy’s biggest city has been casting a spell over writers for centuries. “Naples is a paradise,” wrote the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1786, “Everyone lives in a kind of drunkenness and oblivion of themselves. The same happens to me.” A hundred years later, the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky compared it to a new Jerusalem in one his books, while French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre feared it was the “city that pours out every single element”, in the 1950s.
More recently, Italian author Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels have seduced readers all over the world. Her epic tale of love, violence and ambition in a working-class neighbourhood has been published in over 50 countries and made into an HBO show and a stage play. Roberto Saviano’s bestselling 2006 book Gomorrah was darker still: an investigation of a Mafia-type organisation that exposed Naples’ seedy underbelly and inspired a hit film and TV drama.
Left photo: Heddi Goodrich.
In her debut novel, US writer Heddi Goodrich puts the spotlight on the city’s most infamous neighbourhood, where dialect-speaking Neapolitans live on top of each other in a maze of alleys. Translated from Italian by Goodrich herself, Lost in The Spanish Quarter is narrated by an American language student who is also called Heddi. It opens with an email from her remorseful Italian ex-boyfriend, then transports the reader back to a windswept spring: young Heddi lives in a crumbling illegal flat in the Quartieri Spagnoli and falls hard for handsome Pietro, an earnest geology student from the country.
Goodrich is perceptive on the potent early days of first love and the exhilaration of living in a foreign country – a sort of romance in itself. She tends to overdo the description, but her depiction of the Spanish Quarter is deliciously vivid with its hollering fish sellers and shrieking neighbours, canopies of laundry and purring motorbikes, and glimpses of glittering sea from sun-drenched rooftops. You wouldn’t want to live there, but you may well wish you could visit.
UK release date: 5 September 2019