A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.
The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.
Ferrante is the author of three previous works of critically acclaimed fiction: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. She has given her readers a masterfully plotted page-turner, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations, that is also a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new readers to her fiction.
After two different people recommended this book to me within the space of a month, raving about its brilliance (pardon the pun), I decided I had to see what all the fuss was about. And its quite good timing, since the Neapolitan series, of which this is book one, seems to be setting the literary world all a flutter right now, despite the fact that the first book was released in 2012. Maybe it’s because of the mystery of the author’s identity, since Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym and the writer of these bestselling novels has yet to identify herself.
At first, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It took me a very long time to get into the book, although I could admit that it was technically and stylistically well done. It was also hard to keep track of all the characters and who is related to whom, but I soon relaxed – the important ones will stick with you, and the background people are just that.
The novel is epic in its scope, but also takes place within a very small setting – quite a contradiction in terms, but the author makes it work. The book is the very epitome of a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age – starting out from when Lila and Elena are young children, and ending (at least, in this installment) when they are sixteen. It tracks their unusual friendship, their contrasting personalities, their upbringing in a small, poor and patriarchal neighbourhood.
And despite myself, I was intrigued – soon wrapped up in the emotionally chaotic lives of these two girls, and the challenges they face in growing up and trying to make something of themselves. I finished the novel immediately wanting the next one – so in spite of my rather lukewarm reception to the book, I became a convert to the cult of Ferrante.