Thursday, December 31, 2020

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Review)

I've been wanting to read a novel by Elena Ferrante for a long time. After watching the trailer for Season One of My Brilliant Friend, I decided to borrow from the library this first book in what is known as the “Neapolitan quartet”. 

Book Details:

Book Title: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Category: Adult Fiction, 336 pages
Genre: Family Saga, Coming-of-age
Publisher: Europa Editions; Original edition
Release date: Oct 5, 2012
Content Rating: PG-13 (domestic abuse, mature topics)

Book Description:

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.

My Review:
Reviewed by Laura Fabiani

I've been wanting to read a novel by Elena Ferrante for a long time. After watching the trailer for Season One of My Brilliant Friend, I decided to borrow from the library this first book in what is known as the “Neapolitan quartet”. My husband is Neapolitan and I understand the dialect. I've been to Naples to visit his family. I was interested in this critically-acclaimed series set in 1950s Naples, Italy written by an Italian author who grew up in Naples.

The story is about the friendship of two girls, Elena and Lila. They are both poor and live in a neighborhood in Naples. The story is told from the point of view of Elena with a prologue that starts in the present time leading into Elena recounting the story of her tumultuous relationship with Lila from childhood. Both girls are bright and stand out in school, especially Lila. But circumstances lead Elena to pursue her studies, while Lila cannot. 

What begins as a simple story of two girls quickly turns into a window into the Neapolitan culture a few years after WWII. Elena's account is honest and open, at time self-deprecating, at others enlightening as we see through her the effects of poverty on education and opportunity. The paths of the two girls diverge as they become teenagers, and the story ends with much left unresolved. So if you read this book, be ready to read the rest or you will be left hanging since this book basically introduces all the characters, the setting and the circumstances that will affect them throughout their life. 

The characters are complex and vibrant, as is the setting and the Neapolitan culture with its powerful emotions of pride, jealousy, love and anger. There are family feuds, connections to the Mafia, remnants of communism from the war, and the coming-of-age scenes of youths from uneducated and poor backgrounds. I grew up in an immigrant Italian family and these stories are not unheard of to me. 

I've become hooked on Elena and Lila's story and I am eager to watch the HBO interpretation of the first book, and of course, to read the rest of the books.

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About the Author:

Elena Ferrante is the author of The Days of Abandonment (Europa, 2005), which was made into a film directed by Roberto Faenza, Troubling Love (Europa, 2006), adapted by Mario Martone, and The Lost Daughter (Europa, 2008), soon to be a film directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She is also the author of Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey (Europa, 2016) in which she recounts her experience as a novelist, and a children’s picture book illustrated by Mara Cerri, The Beach at Night (Europa, 2016). The four volumes known as the “Neapolitan quartet” (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child) were published in America by Europa between 2012 and 2015. The first season of the HBO series My Brilliant Friend, directed by Saverio Costanzo, premiered in 2018.

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  1. I haven't read this book, but I have the series on my "to watch" list. And now I am looking forward to it even more.

    1. Yeah, I told my mother-in-law about it and she wants to watch it too.

  2. I hope the series meets your expectations, Laura!

    1. Me too. Sometimes when there is so much hype about a series I wonder if it's really good marketing or good storytelling. So far I'm enjoying the series.

  3. So the TV series is good? I haven't tried it yet ... but would like to. I hope it is filmed on location in Italy. I will seek it out. thanks for your good review of the book.

    1. I've only seen the trailer, but the series is up on my list of must-watch TV shows. I'm looking forward to watching it soon.


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