It’s always nice, after finishing a book that felt like a struggle, to stumble upon one that you absolutely can’t get enough of. That just happened, I finished book #80 (wooo, 20 more to read in 17 days… such a fun challenge) and feel sad that it’s over. It’s part of a series though, so I’m relieved I don’t have to put these characters away forever.
I read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (is my editorial idol/girl crush). According to my roommate, everyone on the subway reads this book, and I can see why; it was hard for me to put down after I got into it.
The book is very character-driven and focused on developing relationships. The narrator and one of two main characters was Elena, and she spoke (narrated) with one of the most frank and memorable voices I can remember reading lately. The other main character and Elena’s best friend was Lila, and the two girls grew up together in Naples, Italy.
So the book is broken up into a section about childhood followed by one on adolescence. Elena and Lila met each other at an early age, so a huge part of the book is just how the two girls grow together and apart as they become women. It was so good, even though that description may sound bland.
There was also a huge focus on the place, Naples, and their particular neighborhood which happened to be violent, poor, emotional, passionate, and a seeming dead end for the families who live there.
Elena is something of an exception to the rule of the neighborhood in her continuing education past elementary school, something that very few of her neighbors did. She continues on to high school, as well. Despite her academic success, she’s plagued by her self-inflicted comparison to Lila, who is uneducated but intelligent, beautiful, enigmatic, and plagued by the self-consciousness of being a girl and being different from those she’s grown up with.
I’m avoiding details intentionally because 1) the book follows Elena from a really young age until she turns 16, so a lot happens, and 2) what makes the book great is not necessarily the action, but how well Ferrante writes about the characters’ reactions.
It was very much a literary, “snapshot-of-life” type book, but in the best way. Everyone should read it and lose yourself in this crazy land that is Naples in the 1950’s through the conflicted eyes of a girl and her best friend. ◊
When you haven’t been in the world long, it’s hard to comprehend what disasters are at the origin of a sense of disaster: maybe you don’t even feel the need to. Adults, waiting for tomorrow, move in a present behind which is yesterday or the day before yesterday or at most last week: they don’t want to think about the rest. Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now.”
– page 29