Care lettrici, cari lettori, provate a leggere questo libro e vorrete che non finisca mai. Elena Ferrante, con il suo nuovo romanzo, torna a sorprenderci, a spiazzarci, regalandoci una narrazione-fiume cui ci si affida come quando si fa un viaggio con un tale piacevole agio, con un tale intenso coinvolgimento, che la meta più è lontana e meglio è. L'autrice abbandona la piccola, densa storia privata e si dedica a un vasto progetto di scrittura che racconta un'amicizia femminile, quella tra Lila Cerullo ed Elena Greco, dall'infanzia a Napoli negli anni Cinquanta del secolo scorso fino a oggi.
The relationship between Elena and Lila is the brilliant centre of this story, but swirling around that intimate friendship—one in which both girls at different points refer to the other pointedly and justifiably as “my brilliant friend”—are a huge cast of characters, economic and political tensions, passion and consequence. Initially that host is limited to immediate family or the families of others who live in the same building. Only gradually does that circle expand. Elena is a diligent student, but Lila is, without seeming to even try, utterly brilliant. Unlike her friend, Lila can already read and write before she gets to school. She taught herself. Lila’s autodidacticism becomes a recurring motif. We see Lila read through the circulating library, and teach herself Latin and Greek. There seems no limit to what Lila might be capable of. No limit other than the imaginative capacity to think herself outside of her own situation. Perhaps. Fortunately Lila’s development spurs Elena on to renewed efforts of her own, though within the school environment. And so each enables the other to flourish.
Elena’s development, thanks to the encouragement of teachers, takes her, in school, beyond anything her parents might have hoped for her. Her friend, however, needs to be more inventive. And she is. Lila is an alchemist of old, transmuting base metals into gold. Or in this case, working within the elements and forces of her local environment to create dramatic new possibilities. Seeing her way through. By the end, however, it is unclear which girl has succeeded.
You will find yourself rooting for both Lila and Elena even as you fear for them. And the dramatic conclusion to My Brilliant Friend will have you waiting impatiently, as I now am, to get your hands on the second volume of this trilogy. Highly recommended.
In a vibrant but poor Naples neighbourhood in the 1950s, two best friends: Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco learn to rely on one another ahead of all else in order to survive on the tough neighbourhood streets. The girls, though in many ways opposites, are both brilliant students; but, of course, this is not a time when education for women is appreciated, much less extolled. When Lila joins the family shoemaking business, Elena is determined to carry on with her studies. But how far will she get, and to what end? Yet even as their paths diverge, we are aware that the girls’ destinies are inescapably linked. Through them, Ferrante tells not only an engaging and turbulent coming-of-age story, but also the story of a working class neighbourhood and of a country being transformed by history.
Narrated by Elena, My Brilliant Friend begins in her early childhood and closes with Lila’s marriage. As the novel concludes, Lila’s future is, at least for the time being, relatively predictable, but not so that of Elena. With Lila married, her place within the framework of neighbourhood and friends is insecure. And there is social and familial pressure to marry, particularly from her mother:
“When Lila, splendid in the dazzling white cloud of her dress and the gauzy veil, processed through the Church of the Holy Family on the arm of the shoemaker and joined Stefano, who looked extremely handsome, at the flower-decked altar … my mother, even if her wandering eye seemed to gaze elsewhere, looked at me to make me regret that I was there, in my glasses, far from the center of the scene, while my bad friend had acquired a wealthy husband, economic security for her family, a house of her own, not rented but bought, with a bathtub, a refrigerator, a television, and a telephone.” (Ch 58)
I was hesitant somewhat to begin this Neapolitan series, which has garnered so much positive review – heightened expectations having been my disappointment on more than one occasion. But I thoroughly enjoyed My Briliant Friend, and I’m curious enough to read on, so The Story of a New Name is up next.
This was a wonderful book and probably the best that I have read this year. Both the portrayal of the girls' friendship, and of the community they come from, are complex, detailed, realistic and illuminating.
The community first - it's a poor district of Naples, and at the start of the story when the girls are six, it's just beginning to recover from the war years. Everyone knows what everyone else did during those years, not least because some people are still living off the ill-gotten money from their underhand behaviour. The historical rivalries and resentments play out in even the lives and friendships of the children too young to know the background, but become even more complex with Italy's post-war economic and political changes. The intense machismo of the neighbourhood also plays a huge part in the dynamics (Lina, typically, tries to ignore it). But all of this is told simply, mainly through the way that it affects the relationships of this group of friends.
Lina herself is a compelling character, and we see her grow from a child, urgently wanting to conquer knowledge of all kinds, to an apparently serene and assured young woman, whose force of will means she will still not be bound by external limitations. Her friendship with Elena as they grow and change is tested many times - Ferrante is brilliant at the little changes in power dynamics and the way the girls use them, through their progress at school, their social networks or relationships with boys. We see Elena dismissing her own successes and wishing she could do well in the areas that Lina is now interested in - and realise much later that Lina was going through the same things.
Without wanting to give anything away, all of this culminates at the end of the book with a set-piece event which involves the whole community, and having known the relationships through the previous ten years, the reader really feels the impact and can imagine it reverberating into the future.
The novel is populated with a rich cast of characters: family members, neighbors, powerful citizens and those who must bow down to them. Elena and Lila are from working class backgrounds, and their forays into higher levels of society are simultaneously enlightening and painful. So are their experiences growing up female and Italian in that time period. But I most enjoyed the relationships, and the struggle to find one’s place in the world. As the first book drew to a close both Elena and Lila were on the cusp of a new phase in their lives, and I am eager to read what happens next.
The friends of the title (which one is brilliant?) are Elena and Lila, who grew up in a small Naples neighborhood. Lila, from a shoemaker family, is fierce and unconventional; Elena more sober and scholarly. Elena goes to high school and Lila, although smarter, does not. She grows pretty and trades on her looks to become the Jackie Kennedy of the neighborhood.
I read this in the midst of a professional and personal crisis, which may color my reaction, but I was often bored. The index of characters in the beginning of the book is absolutely essential, but after a while I didn't care who was who, I just wanted to get through it for the sake of my book club.
This proved to be an entertaining summer read in the midst of winter. Ferrante presents wonderfully complex characters and provides an intimate view of the characters in this coming of age story.
My Brilliant Friend is the story of two girls, Lila and Elena, in Naples during the 50's. The book spans their friendship from first grade to age 16.
With great detail Elena Ferrante portrays life in a Naples working class neighborhood with all of the kids coming of age. We read of the troubles in families and of neighborhood feuds. Social hierarchy and family status is set by occupations amongst the neighbors. Railroad worker, porter, shoemaker, pharmacist, fruit and vegetable grocer, baker and more are portrayed in this study of the human character.
Weddings are an opportunity for the families to splurge extending themselves beyond economic reasonableness for wedding preparations, clothing, and gifts. Education plays a key role in the book and sets the path of life choices for some of the young characters.
The protagonist, Elena, and Lila are brilliant girls. Opportunities and choices carve divergent paths for them and adolescence separates them more as they both struggle to fit into their world. One will find a way to fit in and the other will stands half in and half out of the world of plebs.
I'm not the best customer for such a book, admittedly, but sometimes I like these- this one didn't work for me.
However the story of the friendship between the two girls was more treachery than friendship. The narrator seems to recognize this and it made me wonder why she kept going back for more mistreatment by this "friend". I thought a better title would have been My Brilliant Frenemy.
I won't be reading the rest of the series.
We see Elena enthralled by Lila's daring and violence. But Naples, at least this part, is a violent society, and currents of the war still run through the culture. The community itself is a character, along with parents, teachers, siblings, boys who grow into violent young men. It's a fascinating portrait of the time and these people.
Unfortunately, it's the first in a quartet of books, the latest not yet released. And it ends with a cliffhanger of sorts, that will force me to read on. Not that I'm complaining.
Note: one of the men in our reading group called this chick-lit, to which one of the women remarked that perhaps we could call some other books we've read 'dick-lit'. Yeah. Chick-lit this isn't.
the story starts 50 years after the events of the book, with the disappearance of Lila, and is a first-person remembrance told by Elena. First-person allows the writing to be very personal, very close to the reader, but does not allow us to see anything but the behavior of the other characters and Elena's opinions of them. I happen to like that kind of writing, finding it more immersive than third-person narration, limits and all.
Ferrante captures the uncertainty and confusion of youth through the voice and perspective of Elena. But what we really want is what everyone wants—the thoughts and voice of Lila. We can’t get enough of her, even when we only see her from a distance. We long to know what she thinks. We know, just like Elena does, that Elena is only a conduit, pretty and clever, but a poor substitute for the real thing. If we could only get to Lila, all will become clear. Lila radiates something like unfiltered truth, understanding, knowledge. Her opinions are the ones that matter. But even then, we wonder if we would be accepted into her inner circle. Elena is our conduit.
Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels feel especially real when describing the resentments and jockeying for influence among the boys seeking favors of Elena and Lila, and the confusions these two radiate when considering the options left open to them in a culture not known to value contributions from the female sex beyond housekeeping and baby-making. We yearn to know, too, the thoughts and desires of the parents of Lila and Elena—to know if they are being fairly portrayed by Elena or if there is something more going on which she does not have the understanding yet to relate.
By the end of this, Book I of L’amica genial, we get the uncomfortable feeling that we are on the edge of something unknown, that life will play out for these two much like it does for us: we grasp in the dark for something we cannot see, and hope that it will bring what we imagine, not knowing if the direction is the right one. This marvelous recreation of two lives in a poor neighborhood of Naples a long time ago draws us in completely and involves in in a way that only great literature can.
I reread East of Eden a few months ago and found myself both more sympathetic to Cathy than I had been when I was younger and also frustrated by Steinbeck's one-note portrayal of her. Lila reminds me a bit of a less homicidal, more nuanced Cathy.
A note a wrote while I was attempting to listen to this in the car still rings true. DNF this shit.
"I am listening to this in the car and honestly do not know if I will be able to finish the book. The children are absolutely dreadful to one another; hitting, yelling, gossiping day in and day out. There is so much violence and negativity. I have yet to determine why these two girls are friends, as they both treat each other like shit in their own way. I definitely would not recommend this to anyone. . ."
The style is odd, verging on nonsensical at times, and the narrator/other main characters aren't particularly likeable. I'm quite bewildered, to be honest. Perhaps it would make more sense upon reading the other instalments, but I have too many books and not enough time for that.
What I did like about it was the way the author uses the Neapolitan dialect , the Italian language and the languages that Elena learns: Latin and Greek, to make distinctions between characters and parts of the plot. The portrait of the tension in this southern Italian community also seemed true - it was very West Side storyish.