I do like that my MFA forces me to read books I wouldn’t normally pick up. While it’s not always a sure-fire way to a favorite read, “My Brilliant Friend” makes my top 10 for ‘required reading.’
A note of caution, this is a long book and is followed up by four subsequent sequels that will totally suck you in, so unless you’re willing to devote a copious slot of time to this story, beware! I was only mildly enjoying the read and thought I’d be able to escape the vortex of the series….until I hit the last chapter…
Anyway, onto the plot:
“My Brilliant Friend” begins at the end of the story, with the narrator Lenu, who is in her sixties, explaining that her childhood friend, Lila, has managed to erase herself from existence. No, this is not a Sci Fi, although that would be an awesome plot! The story then cuts to their meeting in an elementary school in Naples, Italy, setting off a life-long saga of friendship, coming-of-age, and class warfare.
Told in a memoir style, it’s difficult to decipher whether or not this tale is really the author’s life, or a very well detailed fiction, and I found that quality to be one of the things I loved most about this book.
Ferrante captures Neapolitan life with incredible vividness and turns a tender human light on a population that has been mostly ridiculed for the better part of recorded history.
We meet Lenu’s terrifying school teacher, her ridiculous first boyfriends, and her family and neighbors that are anything but the caricatures depicted in most Italian stories. These are all real people, with pasts and future possibilities completely dictated by what side of the neighborhood they’re born into.
This story has been translated from the original Italian and still holds up its beauty and essence. The characters are full, the story is amazing, and if you’re willing to commit to it, it’s definitely worth the time.
Fun Fact: Elena Ferrante is the author’s pen-name and is so private that only her publisher knows who she really is. For all intents and purposes this could be a memoir, even though it’s listed as fiction. But Ferrante leaves that up for the reader to decide, which I found to be half the fun.