When I first saw My Brilliant Friend making the rounds of the book-blogosphere I didn’t want to read it.
For any good reason?
I didn’t like the cover and I didn’t like that her surname was so similar to mine. Utterly ridiculous, and somewhat embarrassing to admit.
Needless to say, I was wrong. My Brilliant Friend is one of the best books I have read this year. A novel you don’t realise how much you’ve enjoyed it’s done, continually floating around your mind.
‘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.’ GoodReads.
The novel begins with the disappearance of Lila, who late in life has inexplicably removed herself from the world – disappeared. Frustrated by this eradication, Elena, Lila’s best friend, decides to put their story to memory.
I expected the story to follow their lives up to Lila’s disappearance, but instead it was a tale of the beginning of a lifelong friendship. From six-year-olds to a marriage just over ten years later, Lila and Elena are two very different girls who manage to grow together as their lives grow apart.
Initially I disliked Lila, the young genius. Elena’s insecurities leaked from the pages and merged with my own. She who feels so intellectually inferior in comparison. At every turn Elena is a step behind Lila, but, it is Lila who is at the disadvantage. Despite both having impoverished backgrounds, Elena has the privilege of education, of being able outgrow her social background while maintaining (most) of her childhood innocence.
Alternatively Lila is disadvantaged. She is highly intelligent, but her parents don’t want to attend school. From a young age, she is forced to acknowledge her lack of money, to grow into an adult before she is ready. Elena see’s Lila’s covert studying as a slight towards her, yet Elena is reaching the goals Lila did not have the option to aim for – and Lila is helping.
At 16, Lila marries.
The village in which the girls live was vivid and familiar, despite knowing almost nothing of Italy. The families and feuds so universal in their individuality that the story could be picked up and placed in any other country or time. In that lies the wonder of Ferrante and her adept storytelling. I could picture the wealth of characters as if they existed, feel their joy and insecurities.
I wish I could read more, past Lila’s wedding, watching their friendship change further over time. I feel bereft of story, but I hear there are more books covering these women.