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My Brilliant Friend

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Alternate Cover Edition ISBN 1609450787 (ISBN13: 9781609450786) 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 respe Alternate Cover Edition ISBN 1609450787 (ISBN13: 9781609450786) 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.


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Alternate Cover Edition ISBN 1609450787 (ISBN13: 9781609450786) 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 respe Alternate Cover Edition ISBN 1609450787 (ISBN13: 9781609450786) 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.

30 review for My Brilliant Friend

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kinga

    I received this book as a Christmas present from my boss over a year ago. In fact, everyone in the office received a copy – that’s how much our boss wanted us to read it. Before you start wondering what sort of wonderful place I worked at, let me clarify it was a literary agency, so such things were totally commonplace. So despite the terrible cover, and a rather idiotic blurb I knew it would be a fine book. No review of Ferrante’s book is complete without a mention of how no one knows who Ferran I received this book as a Christmas present from my boss over a year ago. In fact, everyone in the office received a copy – that’s how much our boss wanted us to read it. Before you start wondering what sort of wonderful place I worked at, let me clarify it was a literary agency, so such things were totally commonplace. So despite the terrible cover, and a rather idiotic blurb I knew it would be a fine book. No review of Ferrante’s book is complete without a mention of how no one knows who Ferrante is or even if she exists as an individual woman at all. Personally, I find this whole mystery of little interest as I share her view that all that the author wants to say she should say in the book and there is no need for the entire marketing circus. Ferrante’s Naples novels have been compared to Knausgaard’s magnum opus because both authors can be characterised by their hyperreal scrutiny which seemingly can only be achieved in autobiographical novels. The autobiographical component is official in case of Knausgaard and alleged in Ferrante’s. Additionally, Knausgaard has happily joined the marketing circus, which is why I find Ferrante’s presumed exhibitionism a lot more palatable. These books defiantly ignore all creative writing advice and cheerfully tell and not show, abandon all sensible plot structure and introduce as many characters as they feel like, not really caring whether that whole cast is in any way necessary. Neither do they have time for stylistic flourishes. Ferrante’s prose is bare; the language takes a back seat and is nothing more than a tool to the narrative that is pushed forward by its own urgency. What we are left with, though, is so vivid and authentic that no carefully polished novel could compete with it. This is great news. Rejoice, people, because in the age when it is possible to get a DEGREE in novel writing (without having to write anything of significance), comes a book which just doesn’t give a shit and still manages to steal the hearts of thousands. I don’t suppose I have to explain what this book is about, because you have other reviews for that. But in short it’s about the intense friendship and rivalry between two girls growing up in the impoverished outskirts of Naples. You might argue it’s a book about female experience, and to an extent it certainly is, but judging by how much men love this book, I’d say it’s rather universal. But then, I generally feel female experience, once stripped of all telling signs could be pretty universal, because, you know, women are people too. Anyway, to me this book was more about class than gender. That constant anger, violence, the ‘let’s get them before they get us’ feel permeates the novel. And the moral, if ‘My Brilliant Friend’ has a moral at all, is that you can take a girl out of the Naples slums, but you can’t take the Naples slums out of the girl. Make no mistake, though. This is by no means an emotionally manipulative misery memoir. This is a story of childhood that simply doesn’t know it’s underprivileged.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I tried. I tried. I tried. For 200 pages I tried to see what it is about this writer that gets such acclaim, but with 130 pages to go, I abandoned it - there are just too many other books in my waiting pile that I want to read. This book was chosen for book club which is why I persisted so long (I normally stop reading a book pretty quickly if it doesn't engage me). I didn't develop any concern for the characters, and found it really repetitive - different stage school/same response from parents I tried. I tried. I tried. For 200 pages I tried to see what it is about this writer that gets such acclaim, but with 130 pages to go, I abandoned it - there are just too many other books in my waiting pile that I want to read. This book was chosen for book club which is why I persisted so long (I normally stop reading a book pretty quickly if it doesn't engage me). I didn't develop any concern for the characters, and found it really repetitive - different stage school/same response from parents/same competitiveness with Lila/ it just went on and on and didn't seem to GO anywhere. It was supposed to be the story of a friendship from childhood until womanhood, set in Naples in the 1950's - but I then discovered this book only goes up until the two girls are 16 - there is a sequel - and at that point I decided OH ENOUGH! I realised I was not even going to get some sort of satisfaction from finishing it. Endless minor characters proved annoying and I gave up trying to keep up with who they were (despite the list in the front of the book) as well as all the interludes with various boys.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rick Riordan

    I have been studying Italian in my free time and so decided to try reading one of the most popular Italian writers of today: Elena Ferrante. There have been many articles about this author's mysterious anonymity. Her real identity is unknown except to her publisher because she wishes to have a normal life. I get that. Still, it only adds to the intrigue, as you can't help but wonder who writes these marvelous books. My Brilliant Friend is not the sort of book I would normally pick up as I prefer I have been studying Italian in my free time and so decided to try reading one of the most popular Italian writers of today: Elena Ferrante. There have been many articles about this author's mysterious anonymity. Her real identity is unknown except to her publisher because she wishes to have a normal life. I get that. Still, it only adds to the intrigue, as you can't help but wonder who writes these marvelous books. My Brilliant Friend is not the sort of book I would normally pick up as I prefer fantasy fiction. This is contemporary realistic fiction about two women who grow up together in the 1950s and 1960s in a poor neighborhood in Naples. The cast of characters is large, and for me, an American reader, I was missing some cultural context that made it a little bewildering at first. I read the book in English (because my Italian is not that good yet) and the style was both deeply intimate and jarringly matter-of-fact. The narrator Elena tells us everything about her upbringing in a neighborhood where harsh poverty is the norm and family violence is unremarkable, even, for instance, when a father sends a daughter flying out a second story window. Elena grows up side by side with her friend/foil/personal albatross Lila, who is naturally brilliant at everything and more beautiful than Elena, but who is held down by circumstances to work in her father's shoe store while Elena has a chance to escape her life through education. The book is a blow-by-blow confessional, following the two girls from their earliest memories through their early adulthood. The short chapters keep the pages turning, and by the end of the novel I found myself very involved in the lives of the characters. It is epic in the best sense of the word, and yet quiet and personal in its scope. At the end, there is a cliffhanger so brutal I immediately had to go and buy the next volume of this series. Wow, cliffhangers work! I should try them some time . . .

  4. 5 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    type, edit, delete, undo delete, type, edit, delete.. deep breath start again type, edit, delete… make a coffee type, edit, delete… pour a drink type, edit, delete.. desperation sets in The dog ate my review! ………………................................ Why, why, why can’t I find any words to say about this book? The problem is I don’t know what I feel about it. In fact, the book has left me without any feelings, good or bad. It has left me blank. I’m not used to feeling blank after reading. I read Ferrante’s Th type, edit, delete, undo delete, type, edit, delete.. deep breath start again type, edit, delete… make a coffee type, edit, delete… pour a drink type, edit, delete.. desperation sets in The dog ate my review! ………………................................ Why, why, why can’t I find any words to say about this book? The problem is I don’t know what I feel about it. In fact, the book has left me without any feelings, good or bad. It has left me blank. I’m not used to feeling blank after reading. I read Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment last year and I was excited while reading - I felt every line of it intensely. I was so stimulated by the writing - the words and the dramatic tone seemed to match the episodes of the narrative quite perfectly - that I started writing the review even before I’d finished reading the book. With this one, I skimmed, I nodded off, I left it down often and only reluctantly picked it up again. I finally finished it on a flight after I’d deliberately not carried any other reading material with me. In my desperation to find something to say about the book, I even thought about rereading it…

  5. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Sumi

    UPDATED November 2018: here’s my review of the new HBO miniseries. Hint: It’s just as good as the book! https://nowtoronto.com/movies/reviews... ***** My Brilliant Friend, a.k.a. My Brilliant New Obsession Believe all the hype. This is a rich, immersive, deeply satisfying book that, like many great novels, captures a particular time and place with complete authority. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series. In a dirt poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples in the 1950s, bright work UPDATED November 2018: here’s my review of the new HBO miniseries. Hint: It’s just as good as the book! https://nowtoronto.com/movies/reviews... ***** My Brilliant Friend, a.k.a. My Brilliant New Obsession Believe all the hype. This is a rich, immersive, deeply satisfying book that, like many great novels, captures a particular time and place with complete authority. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series. In a dirt poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples in the 1950s, bright working class girls Elena Greco (our narrator) and bestie Lila Cerrullo survive childhood and adolescence, learning how to navigate school, boys, sex and the limited opportunities available to them because of their class and gender. Initially I found the book disorienting. The prologue is set decades later and involves people we don’t yet know. Lila has disappeared and Elena is trying to discover what happened to her. Presumably these books are her way of finding that out. And once the story proper begins, it takes a while to keep all the names straight. Who is Nino, again? Enzo? What are the grocers called? (It doesn’t help that only Elena calls her friend Lila; everyone else calls her Lina, and her birth name is Rafaella! Also: Elena is often called Lenu.) An index of the family names at the beginning proves very helpful. But Elena Ferrante’s prose is ravishing. It’s graceful without being precious, mature and knowing while still immediate and visceral. She literally plunges you into the lives of these children. Family vendettas take on the power of myth; middle school is a fraught war zone where learning goes beyond what’s in the books; each change in the girls' bodies is registered and assessed in terms of their newfound power (or lack of it). Late childhood and early adolescence can be a painful time; the stakes are high; your identity isn’t yet formed. There’s a sense of danger lurking everywhere. One month that boy in class could be a friendly ally; a few months later he might spit at your feet, ignore you and take up your best friend. Every situation, not just a class assignment, is a problem to be solved. Near the end of the book, the way one character orchestrates her way out of one engagement and into another is worthy of something from The Godfather movies. In its insights, rich texture and violence – murder, threats, being thrown out of a window – the book reminded me of Alice Munro’s early masterpiece Lives Of Girls And Women. And several things will continue to haunt me: • The girls’ first trip outside their neighbourhood – when they “run away” • How the title is mentioned in the final section of the book (this makes you wonder who, exactly, is the “brilliant” one) • A scene in which the neighbourhood’s teens, all dressed up, cross into a fancier part of town and realize, with insecurity and anger, how limited their world and lives are • The climactic wedding scene, in which all the threads of the story come together – sex, romance, class, destiny – up until the surprising twist in the final line, which will make you reconsider a big chunk of the story • Elena’s introduction to the pleasures (and dangers) of sexuality • The idea of how we sometimes act to impress friends, mimic being courageous by thinking of others' actions, or more subtly, do things while imagining our friends doing them • The longings, fears and sheer awkwardness of adolescence • The legacy of fascism, complete with stories about what family did what to whom, and the changing nature of Italian society • The idea of how education gets you ahead but also alienates you from the class you might soon be leaving behind Ferrante (a pen name) has structured the book so carefully that an early sequence in which the girls try to retrieve their dolls in a sewer contains, in miniature, everything that the book will eventually deal with: lost innocence, petty jealousy, money, imagination, sinister men, courage, and the way that one person’s account of the facts can vary drastically with the so-called truth. Now that I've come down with "Ferrante fever," I look forward to the next novel, The Story Of A New Name.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jaidee

    1 "sweet Jesus...this is the first of four books" stars !! 2018 Read I was Most Afraid to Hate Award First of all a bit of translation In English we say blahblahblah. In Italian they say blablabla. Ms. Ferrante separates this book into two sections: Childhood (18 chapters) and Adolescence (62 chapters) Childhood Ch 1 to 9 Ms. Ferrante writes: blablablablablablablablablab and blablablablabla Jaidee: God I hope this gets better Childhood Ch 10-14 Ms. Ferrante writes: blablablablabla and blablablabla 1 "sweet Jesus...this is the first of four books" stars !! 2018 Read I was Most Afraid to Hate Award First of all a bit of translation In English we say blahblahblah. In Italian they say blablabla. Ms. Ferrante separates this book into two sections: Childhood (18 chapters) and Adolescence (62 chapters) Childhood Ch 1 to 9 Ms. Ferrante writes: blablablablablablablablablab and blablablablabla Jaidee: God I hope this gets better Childhood Ch 10-14 Ms. Ferrante writes: blablablablabla and blablablablabla Jaidee: This is boring me to tears ! Adolescence Ch 1 - 12 Ms. Ferrante writes: bla bla bla bla bla bla blabla Jaidee: What's with the three creepy little girls with crinoline on the cover? Adolescence Ch 13-36 Ms. Ferrante writes: blablablablablabalbla blablablabla bla bla bla Jaidee: Oh I guess this about a lot of blablabla....when does it get good....forty three people and their mother insisted that I read this !! Adolescence Ch 37 to 54 Ms. Ferrante writes: blablabla blabla bla blabla bla Jaidee: Please let this be over and What the fuck am I missing....oh yes maybe a few blablablas !! Adolescence Ch 54 to 62 Ms. Ferrante writes: Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla !!! Jaidee: Am I in Purgatory ?? I am guessing the content of Books 2 through 4 will be Blablablablablabla and more blablablablablabla I will not be finding out ! I say Bleh Bleh Blech !!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lucie Cavaroc

    The entire time I spent reading this book I asked myself "What is wrong with this book? Why am I having so much trouble getting into it?". It is incredibly slow-paced, but I also believe the Italian-to-English translation must be flawed. Many of the sentences were confusing and even contradictory. The redeeming factor, and the reason I gave it two stars instead of one, was that the Italian atmosphere was strongly prevalent and somewhat enjoyable - I learned what living in Naples in the 50s mus The entire time I spent reading this book I asked myself "What is wrong with this book? Why am I having so much trouble getting into it?". It is incredibly slow-paced, but I also believe the Italian-to-English translation must be flawed. Many of the sentences were confusing and even contradictory. The redeeming factor, and the reason I gave it two stars instead of one, was that the Italian atmosphere was strongly prevalent and somewhat enjoyable - I learned what living in Naples in the 50s must have been like.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Maxwell

    [4.5 stars] If I were to describe Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend in one word it would be 'mythic.' The minutiae of Elena and Lila's lives into which Ferrante dives takes on these mythic proportions, pulling the reader along on a tense and frightful story. But at first glance, the story is anything but tense and frightful. It's a story of female friendship, between two lower-class girls in Naples following WWII. Ferrante, with precision and passion, recounts the lives of these girls as anyth [4.5 stars] If I were to describe Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend in one word it would be 'mythic.' The minutiae of Elena and Lila's lives into which Ferrante dives takes on these mythic proportions, pulling the reader along on a tense and frightful story. But at first glance, the story is anything but tense and frightful. It's a story of female friendship, between two lower-class girls in Naples following WWII. Ferrante, with precision and passion, recounts the lives of these girls as anything less than ideal. There's an underlying push and pull to their friendship that goes against the expected narrative of girlhood. It's compelling and constantly teetering on the edge of disaster, again bringing back this theme of myth and how each detail lends itself to something greater, something disastrous. We learn as the characters learn. Ferrante excels at establishing a tone fit to the story. When Elena, our narrator, is unsure, we are unsure. When she's jealous, we're jealous. She's spiteful at times, and compassionate at others. It all builds upon itself to create a vivid atmosphere that is only enhanced by the gritty Neapolitan setting. I wasn't convinced by the first half of the book. But the second part really sold me. And I think that if I were to go back now and re-read the beginning, I'd be much more comfortable with the characters, the setting and the narrative structure. It's disconcerting and disorienting at first, getting thrown into a world with so many characters and so little hand-holding. But I appreciate Ferrante's confidence in the reader. She gives you more than you might handle, but once you get a grip on it, it's incredibly satisfying. I'm intrigued to see where the story goes, so much so that I ordered the next book in the series immediately after finishing this one. I only expect the books to get better and better; and based on what Ferrante's proved with this one, I'm sure I won't be disappointed. First read: January 14-23, 2016 Second read: December 23-26, 2016 Third read: October 3-7, 2018

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    This novel has so much violence that it should come with some kind of rating. Seriously, I had no idea it was so dangerous to grow up in Naples. "I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence." My Brilliant Friend is the story of two childhood friends, Elena and Lila. It is the first in a series, and I confess that when I started reading it, I did not intend to continue with them — I was just going to read this first one to see what all the fuss over Ferrante was about. It took me This novel has so much violence that it should come with some kind of rating. Seriously, I had no idea it was so dangerous to grow up in Naples. "I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence." My Brilliant Friend is the story of two childhood friends, Elena and Lila. It is the first in a series, and I confess that when I started reading it, I did not intend to continue with them — I was just going to read this first one to see what all the fuss over Ferrante was about. It took me a while to get into the book; there are so many families in the neighborhood, and everyone has nicknames that it was tough to remember who was who and who did what to which relative. (There is a cast of characters listed at the front of the book, but it's still confusing.) About midway through the book, I really connected with the two main characters, especially after they started going to school. I could relate to Elena's jealousy about Lila, and how she admired and imitated her strength. Occasionally Lila opens up and admits how important Elena is to her, and those moments are lovely. Ferrante's descriptions are so good that eventually it felt as if I had been living with these families. But what exactly is the story, you ask? Well, there are lots of them. There are stories about cruel boys in the neighborhood. There are stories about Lila's dream of making it rich by designing special shoes to sell. There are stories about the competitions at school, and how Elena and Lila would push each other to learn more. There are stories of Lila's family, and how her father would abuse her when he lost his temper. There are stories about the men who pursued Lila when she became a beautiful teenager, and how she risked offending a powerful family. There is the story of Elena's first boyfriend, and how she has to navigate high school. And finally, there is the story of a wedding. The wedding scene is what closes out this first novel, and something happens there that convinced me to read the second book. You win, Ferrante. Update: A Few Weeks Later I have gotten so involved in this series that I am reading Book 3 and have already ordered Book 4. My advice to those starting out is to be patient with this first novel -- a lot of the events that happen in Elena's childhood have long-lasting effects, like seeds that had to be planted so they could sprout later on. The more I read about these two women, the more I admire them. I highly recommend these Ferrante novels. Favorite Quote "Right away, from the first day, school had seemed to me a much nicer place than home. It was the place in the neighborhood where I felt safest, I went there with excitement. I paid attention to the lessons, I carried out with the greatest diligence everything that I was told to carry out, I learned. But most of all I liked pleasing the teacher, I liked pleasing everyone." A Disturbing But Incredible Passage "We lived in a world in which children and adults were often wounded, blood flowed from the wounds, they festered, and sometimes people died. One of the daughters of Signora Assunta, the fruit and vegetable seller, had stepped on a nail and died of tetanus. Signora Spagnuole's youngest child had died of croup. A cousin of mine, at the age of twenty, had gone one morning to move some rubble and that night was dead, crushed, the blood pouring out of his ears and mouth. My mother's father had been killed when he fell from a scaffolding at a building site. The father of Signor Peluso was missing an arm, the lathe had caught him unawares. The sister of Giuseppina, Signor Peluso's wife, had died of tuberculosis at twenty-two. The oldest son of Don Achille — I had never seen him, and yet I seemed to remember him — had gone to war and died twice: drowned in the Pacific Ocean, then eaten by sharks. The entire Melchiorre family had died clinging to each other, screaming with fear, in a bombardment. Old Signorina Clorinda had died inhaling gas instead of air. Guanine, who was in fourth grade when were were in first, had died one day because he had come across a bomb and touched it. Legion, with whom we had played in the courtyard, or maybe not, she was only a name, had died of typhus. Our world was like that, full of words that killed: croup, tetanus, typhus, gas, war, lathe, rubble, work, bombardment, bomb, tuberculosis, infection. With these words and those years I bring back the many fears that accompanied me all my life."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    When did we all start talking about Elena Ferrante, guys? I can’t remember- was it last year? Maybe 2013? I know she’s been writing for far longer than that, but it was definitely only recently that she became A Thing. Whenever it was, we should have been talking about her sooner. And with different words. Better words. Words whose value hasn’t been sucked out by the marketing blurbs they’ve been a part of, with the same accompanying modifiers (if I never hear “compulsively readable” again that When did we all start talking about Elena Ferrante, guys? I can’t remember- was it last year? Maybe 2013? I know she’s been writing for far longer than that, but it was definitely only recently that she became A Thing. Whenever it was, we should have been talking about her sooner. And with different words. Better words. Words whose value hasn’t been sucked out by the marketing blurbs they’ve been a part of, with the same accompanying modifiers (if I never hear “compulsively readable” again that would be okay with me, marketing departments). Too many eyes will glaze over when I use these words that would once have excited the grab-the-keys-and-run-to-the-bookstore response this book deserves. And that might make you, like me, not pick this up for absolutely years after you read this. So I need better words. Words that will make you pick it up tomorrow. Because I still can’t believe I somehow developed the impression that this was a book that I could miss. How did I somehow think this wasn’t a series of books that I should have had on pre-order every time like it was Game of Thrones? (… or, you know, something better than that given the quality of the last installment.) But in the absence of an unused vocabulary floating around somewhere I’ll try to convince you with the words I have, because- and please read this in the tone of your dad giving advice at a crucial life moment-I don’t want you to make the mistakes that I did, sonny boy. How do I love this novel? Let me count the ways… * * * My Brilliant Friend is the first installment of Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy. It is an old woman’s memories of her friendship with a girl named Lila in the slums of 1950s Naples. They are both clever girls growing up in the midst of a grinding cycle of poverty and isolation generated by the problems of the post-war, post-Fascist Italian state (and the pre-war, mostly-in-name-only Italian “unification”). Both of them, along with the other children of the neighborhood, have a possibility of escaping the cycle and breaking out into the new Marshall Plan supported dolce vita- and some of the story is about that. But not mostly. Mostly it’s about what it’s like to be blessed/cursed enough to have a childhood friend who is the center of your universe, and how that friendship can literally change all the things in your life, and make you the person that you are in the process of becoming. Straightforward enough, yes? You’ve read that before. Sure…but then why is it so poignant? Why did I spend hours upon hours with this book yesterday, unable to put it down? How did such an ordinary story work such undeniable magic? There are many answers to that, but let’s start with this: The story. The plot was the most natural, organic thing I’ve ever read. She started telling it and kept on doing it without pauses for literary reflections or metaphors, or for pretty much anything that might send the “oh right, this is fiction,” signal to your brain. She let the damn thing be and run its course without interfering. She didn’t shy away from having her character be involved in all the quotidian things of childhood or adolescence- zits, dresses, best friends, boyfriends, finding out what bad words mean, and endless status competitions. But never once did she make it feel tired or like something I’ve read a zillion times. Nobody came equipped with signifier clue words or pre-packaged, recognizable YA storylines, with immature emotional truths being repeated in italics, in between descriptions of clothing and hair. And you know what was fascinating? There totally was a popular girl everyone wanted here, there were mean bullies, nerdy intellectuals, hot jocks, slutty cheerleaders, apparently motivationlessly awful villains, and our heroine was even intellectual and had glasses. But that never occurred to me until I started to write this review. This is mostly because Ferrante allows her characters a kind of full, honest emotional range of expression that I’ve rarely seen in books about children and teenagers. She conveys the pettiness and center-of-the-universe feeling that characterizes childhood without ever quite making you detach from or become disgusted with the characters involved. When someone’s doll is thrown away, and another character retaliates, instead of rolling her eyes and refereeing whose fault it is, Ferrante just keeps staring at both characters and watching them go through that moment and what happens afterwards. There’s no adult intervention, whether that’s with an adult character or with an adult narrator. As is typical with Ferrante, this is deliberate a choice that serves several purposes at once. One of which is to highlight the lack of fully developed adults anywhere in these children’s lives. This is one of the many effective ways Ferrante finds to seep you in the atmosphere of the Naples neighborhood where this all takes place, right from the beginning, but beautifully, dropping it in between the cracks of action and thought: “I waited to see if Lila would have second thoughts and turn back. I knew what she wanted to do, I had hoped that she would forget about it, but in vain. The street lamps were not yet lit, nor were the lights on the stairs. From the apartments came irritable voices. To follow Lila, I had to leave the bluish light of the courtyard and enter the black of the doorway. When I finally made up my mind, I saw nothing at first, there was only an odor of old junk and DDT. Then I got used to the darkness… We kept to the side where the wall was, she two steps ahead, I two steps behind, torn between shortening the distance or letting it increase. I can still feel my shoulder inching along the flaking wall and the idea that the steps were very high, higher than my own apartment across the way… There was an odor of sautéing garlic. Maria, Don Achille’s wife, would put me in the pan of boiling oil, the children would eat me, he would suck my head the way my father did with mullets…” Never once does she need to set aside pages and pages of description as some authors do, because it’s given to us in pieces like that, while we’re following the action, until we have a full picture of a crumbling courtyard of a creaky old apartment building on a beaten down street in a bad part of town without ever really knowing how we got there. She also does a lot, effectively, with repetition. Repetition shows us a lot about why the characters are the way that they are. The violence of the neighborhood, in particular, is depicted with a frighteningly normalizing banality. We see violence happen over and over again- not as an isolated, cinematic horror, the fright of one’s life- as something mentioned as an afterthought, “they argued, and then sometimes, after dinner, he beat her.” The deliberate use of “sometimes” was chilling, like we’re not even hearing about all the other times when it happens. It’s not even worthy of comment. What’s even more terrifying is the dispassionate, impartial gaze turned on it by a narrator who has never known anything different. It only occurs to the sixty year old character who is the actual narrator of the story about two-thirds of the way through to get outside of herself and mention that she realizes now that her neighborhood was not the norm- it’s like in telling the story she put herself back under the spell and forgot that herself. It takes something 2015 Hollywood-level cinematically, publicly violent for anyone to feel the slightest bit bad about something that happens-(view spoiler)[ like throwing your eleven year old daughter out a window into the street. (hide spoiler)] The pernicious, weed-like growth of a particularly violent form of aggressive masculinity is at the root of most of the problem, but its societal reinforcement and indeed, the respect shown for those who display it, is shown, through this enforced repetition, to be the true cancer that not even young boys with the best of intentions and a deliberate intent to break the cycle seem to be able to escape. (Not to mention the girls who never had a chance to begin with.) Something that further increased the powerfully true impression I got from her writing was her gentle use of not-quite chronological time. Time in the novel wavers into being, then very slowly circles back to its origin point until you’ve almost forgotten where you started. But even this tried and true literary device never felt like a literary device. Again, it was so well and seamlessly executed it felt like a natural, organic process that was necessary to telling the story. It was like what happens when someone is telling you a story and realizes you don’t have the context to understand it, so they back it up and up until they feel they’ve given you the whole story, and then only just remember why they were telling you the story in the first place. But beyond that, the prose itself: Ferrante has that magical Tolstoy thing. The power of it isn’t in the individual sentence, which I guarantee you will be perfectly ordinary, but a string of sentences put together in just the right order. It is almost never going to be a striking word choice that nabs you, but rather a continuous flow that lulls you into its depths so that you’re surprised awake occasionally, just realizing that it’s happened to you. I honestly can’t think of anybody else except Tolstoy when he’s not ranting or religious, or Austen when she wasn’t being mischievous or clever, who can give the impression of being so utterly absent, as if someone simply left a kind of recorder on that would let you see what was going on inside and outside of the characters’ heads. But while the plot is compelling enough, the hot, poisonous atmosphere and her rare gift for naturalistic, barely-there powerful writing are more than enough reason to show up, that's what you notice later, after you’re done and you can breathe normally again. At the time all you really notice are these girls. It’s Lila. Lila, Lila, Lila. If you’ve ever been friends with someone who was demonstrably smarter than you (or you were so convinced they were as to make no difference), then you know Lila. You know what it’s like to know that no matter what you do you’ll always feel inferior- whether they praise you or encourage you or not. It makes so much sense to me that Lila was the transformative experience for Elena. She’s a heady thing for a child to experience. She is a person who is seemingly born free of gaze. She’ll process what you say for the words you actually use- not the social status you have while you say it, not the yearning she has to be like you or not like you at all, nor does she care about the image she is projecting to you. One of the things the narrator worries about in Lila in 1950s Italy is that she doesn’t have the instinctive, eyes down response that the other girls do when they are getting harassed on the street. Lila threatens people with a knife, or simply asks them curious questions about what on earth they’re talking about when they do that to her. She literally stares down or completely ignores a gaze that is the all-encompassing foundation, path and walls of all the women (and, to be frank, most of the men) around her. That’s an intoxicating cocktail of a thing to be around. A possibly dangerous, even ruinous thing to be around, if you’re a smart, insecure teenager with an imagination and a constant societal message that you are not good enough. Like Elena, the narrator. Her character development was very cleverly done. She had us, and Elena, so focused on her friend that her own story seems to happen under the radar, in asides, as if just necessary for context and to get us to the next Lila story. Which is a brilliant way to depict someone with the kind of self-esteem issues and brewing existential problems that are the major driver of most of Elena’s choices. She becomes a person somewhere along the way, without even realizing it- she builds an entire personality around Lila, the only thing she can see as worth motivating herself for in her horrible little dirty world. But it makes her beautiful moment of self-awareness at the end of the novel all the more poignant. She is shocked to discover that a disappointment she has in her own life, unrelated to Lila in any way, is important to her. This realization of her own, independent being as a person means she is able to have her first out of body experience, and look beyond the isolation and suffocation of her neighborhood to see herself with a gaze that might actually benefit her, in the end: “I discovered that I had considered the publication of those few lines, my name in print, as a sign that I really had a destiny, that the hard work of school would surely lead upward, somewhere, that Maestra Oliviero had been right to push me forward and to abandon Lila. “Do you know what plebs are?” “Yes, Maestra.” And at that moment I knew what plebs were, much more clearly than when, years earlier, she had asked me. The plebs were us. The plebs were that fight for food and wine, that quarrel over who should be served first and better, that dirty floor on which the waiters clattered back and forth, those increasingly vulgar toasts. The plebs were my mother, who had drunk wine and was now leaning against my father’s shoulder, while he, serious, laughed, his mouth gaping, at the sexual allusions of the metal dealer. They were all laughing, even Lila, with the expression of one who has a role and will play it to the utmost.” But most of all there is the friendship between these two girls. The content of it is some of the most honest that I’ve seen. It’s neither a sentimental Victorian ode to sisterly support nor is it as cynical as some more modern reinterpretations of female friendship would suggest. It trusts you to understand that these are real people and to acknowledge that because you are willing to acknowledge it within yourself without ever telling you to acknowledge it. We know that the narrator doesn’t mean it maliciously, necessarily, when she needs a boyfriend because she thinks her friend has one, that she throws her friend’s doll down a hole because her friend did, that she feels better if she looks a little better than her sometimes. We also see that whenever something truly bad happens to her friend she notices it and she helps- she gets her through some tough situations when she has no obligation to. We also see how fixated she is on her friend, and how nothing is really worth it to her if she doesn’t share in it with her: she shows us what it means when your life is really, as literally as possible, almost entirely about your perception of another person. We see this so often in the context of romantic literature, but almost never in the context of friendship. I think the latter is far more common I do not claim the novel is faultless. There were two moments where her assured voice broke and she fell down into the exaggerated metaphorical exercises I was so happy to see absent from most of the book. (Though one of those times is forgivable, because it came from a dramatic adolescent who dramatically drew out the metaphor herself in the weird, obsessive way that teenagers do. I also did wish that we might have spent slightly more time with the narrator herself, in her own home and her own life so that we might have gotten to know her better. But that was a reader’s wish for a sympathetic character to know herself better, mostly- that’s not what this story was about. It would have been the poorer for following what I wanted it to do. The faults were mostly the faults of the character, put there deliberately to emphasize a character trait. So perhaps it is nearly faultless after all. What did I miss? Maybe someone else can tell me where she went wrong, because I can’t find it. Or I probably could, actually, but I think I’ll be much too busy reading the next installment: The Story of a New Name. Which, I predict, is exactly what you’ll be doing as soon as you finish this book. Go on. I’ll get you started….. “My friendship with Lila began the day we decided to go up the dark stairs that led, step after step, flight after flight, to the door of Don Achille’s apartment. I remember the violet light of the courtyard, the smells of a warm spring evening. The mothers were making dinner, it was time to go home, but we delayed, challenging each other, without ever saying a word, testing our courage…..” (This book originally appeared on my blog at: http://shouldacouldawouldabooks.com/2... )

  11. 4 out of 5

    Violet wells

    “I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.” So said Virginia Woolf and this, the forging of identity in relationship, is very much the theme of Elena Ferrante’s compelling novel. Elena, the narrator of the novel, is in first grade when we first meet her. She lives in a violent and impoverished working class district of Naples where kindred spirits or role models are hard to find. Certainly not her mother – “My mother did her best to make me understand that “I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.” So said Virginia Woolf and this, the forging of identity in relationship, is very much the theme of Elena Ferrante’s compelling novel. Elena, the narrator of the novel, is in first grade when we first meet her. She lives in a violent and impoverished working class district of Naples where kindred spirits or role models are hard to find. Certainly not her mother – “My mother did her best to make me understand that I was superfluous in her life. I wasn’t agreeable to her nor was she to me. I found her body repulsive.” Then she meets Lila. Lila is a wild child with exalted sensibility and intelligence for her age. In Lila Elena finally identifies an ideal she can aspire to. The portrait of Elena and Lila’s bond is the novel’s masterstroke. As all around them the somewhat coarse uneducated boys of the neighbourhood seek to distort and shape the girls to suit their own masculine vanity – “dissolve the margins” of separation - the two girls forge an independence of spirit that is nurtured by the inspiration they find in each other. They create a compelling and exciting inner world together, a stage on which they both are able to dramatise themselves as the heroines of their own fate. The novel is the story of their friendship and Elena’s attempts to transcend her background of thrift and mean spirited bullying. It’s an unusual and highly distinctive novel (visually reminiscent of de Sica’s early brilliant films). Essentially because of the intensity and lucidity of Ferrante’s prose. She manages to write about the most prosaic detail with a kind of hallucinatory urgency and as such her voice hits exactly the right notes in expressing the joys and torments of adolescence when every day seems to hold moments of both pivotal humiliation and triumph, moments few adults are capable of perceiving. Thus the narrative is a constant high tension wire where the mundane relentlessly spills over into epiphany or violence. There’s a passage when Elena is writing about Lila’s prose style which would serve as the perfect eulogy of Ferrante’s prose style – “She expressed herself in sentences that were well constructed, and without error, even though she had stopped going to school, but – further – she left no trace of effort, you weren’t aware of the artifice of the written word. I read and I saw her, heard her. The voice set in the writing overwhelmed me, enthralled me even more than when we talked face to face; it was completely cleansed of the dross of speech, the confusion of the oral.”

  12. 5 out of 5

    Agnieszka

    I had a friend, I still have, albeit, with time our paths diverged a bit, alas ! From early childhood till our twenties we were inseparable like two budgerigars. We were alike, yet different. We were alike because of youth but we differed about our expectations. While I daydreamed she had her feet firmly fixed on the ground. She was good at science while I always preferred humanities. She was pretty, easy-mannered girl, no wonder she was popular with the boys. But it was never any problem to me I had a friend, I still have, albeit, with time our paths diverged a bit, alas ! From early childhood till our twenties we were inseparable like two budgerigars. We were alike, yet different. We were alike because of youth but we differed about our expectations. While I daydreamed she had her feet firmly fixed on the ground. She was good at science while I always preferred humanities. She was pretty, easy-mannered girl, no wonder she was popular with the boys. But it was never any problem to me because I had every boy I wanted. I had David Copperfield and Athos, Meaulnes and Mr Darcy, Hamlet and Snufkin. Sounds stupid, I know. Anyway, being shy and introvert by nature I was impressed by her go-getting energy, I admired her aptitude for learning. We attended to the same primary school, then secondary to finally get together into university. I remember our conversations, dreams, confessions. Though time ruthlessly verified some of our youthful desires and unworldly ideas I still consider these years being extraordinary time in my life. Why do I write this ? Because of Elena Ferrante. Her name seems to be all the rage amongst my friends lately. Completely deservedly, I think. My brilliant friend is a first volume of series and centers around two young girls, Lila and Elena, and their not always easy friendship. One day Lila, now in her sixties, disappears without a trace. With all her things, books, clothes, photos. Nothing’s left as if Lila wanted to vanish off the face of the earth. This an unaccountable behaviour serves for pretext for Elena to tell us their story. So, let's move then over forty years back to the peripheral parts of Naples, to the fifties of the last century. Girls grow up here surrounded by poverty and violence, falsely understood pride and macho behaviors of their fathers and brothers. They make plans for the future how to earn enough money to break out of embrace of misery, ignorance and oppression. Their relation is uncanny medley of admiration, envy and rivalry. Girls are like fire and water. Elena is polite, dutiful and well-behaved meanwhile Lila is impulsive and rebellious. Although they are friends through thick and thin they do not cease to compete with each other. It is pull and push relationship, marked with the ups and downs, full of resentments and mutual fascination. My brilliant friend is a record of friendship and adolescence but also meticulous description of the world which is about to change. Maybe this novel is not especially innovative but Ferrante has a keen eye. Maybe the name of the narrator is not quite accidental. Maybe Ferrante just writes about herself and performs a personal exorcisms. Anyway, her observations are acutely accurate and, needless to say, I’m eagerly waiting to know subsequent choices, joys and failures of Lila and Elena.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Kelsey

    Posted at Heradas What you should know: The book is fantastic, and I couldn’t help but absorb it in just a few days. I feel like it really got at the core of human insecurity, gender and income inequality, female friendships, and our hierarchy of needs. Somehow it’s also a page-turner and an engaging story. It blows my mind that all of those things are possible in one short novel. I guarantee that it’ll get under your skin and soak in. Ferrante vs. Knausgaard: Even though I’ve only read this first n Posted at Heradas What you should know: The book is fantastic, and I couldn’t help but absorb it in just a few days. I feel like it really got at the core of human insecurity, gender and income inequality, female friendships, and our hierarchy of needs. Somehow it’s also a page-turner and an engaging story. It blows my mind that all of those things are possible in one short novel. I guarantee that it’ll get under your skin and soak in. Ferrante vs. Knausgaard: Even though I’ve only read this first novel in the sequence, it’s hard for me to resist the urge to compare Ferrante’s Neapolitan series to Knausgaard’s My Struggle. Both series are: multi-volume, non-English, first person page-turner novels spanning several decades of their character’s lives, first published in English in 2012, with subsequent volumes appearing annually. They both feature straightforward, simple prose, detailing the ins and outs of their characters’ lives, and are deeply, sometimes disturbingly honest in tone. They both tackle a lot of the same themes, but from inside different experiences. If you enjoyed one, I’d highly recommend the other. Especially if you're a guy who enjoyed Knausgaard, you owe it to yourself to read something similar, but from a female perspective. Ferrante’s writing really put me inside that experience in an empathic way. They are also vastly different from one another: The Neapolitan Novels are fictitious, set in Italy, viscerally violent, told in a mostly linear, chronological order, feature short chapters, supposedly gained a lot in translation, are written pseudonymously, and have a tight focus on the friendship between two female characters over the years. My Struggle is wildly non-linear, purportedly autobiographical, set mostly in Norway, meandering, has no chapters whatsoever, steeped in nostalgia, and is tightly focused on Knausgaard's view of his general failings as a man, before, after, and during his journey toward becoming a writer. For more on the similarities between the two works, I’d suggest Joshua Rathman’s terrific essay for The New Yorker: Knausgaard or Ferrante?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    My Brilliant Friend, the first in Elena Ferrante’s quartet about best friends from a Naples ghetto, is a novel about power: who holds it, how it is won and lost, and what happens when power shifts occur. It is a story of violence: domestic and cultural, physical and emotional. All this, in a novel about two young girls exploring friendship and adolescence in post-war southern Italy. Elena Greco and Lila Cerrullo are daughters of working class families, growing up in a crowded, poor, electrifying My Brilliant Friend, the first in Elena Ferrante’s quartet about best friends from a Naples ghetto, is a novel about power: who holds it, how it is won and lost, and what happens when power shifts occur. It is a story of violence: domestic and cultural, physical and emotional. All this, in a novel about two young girls exploring friendship and adolescence in post-war southern Italy. Elena Greco and Lila Cerrullo are daughters of working class families, growing up in a crowded, poor, electrifying neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples in the mid-1950s. Elena recounts their adolescence from the remove of middle age, stating: I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence. ... Life was like that, that's all, we grew up with the duty to make it difficult for others before they made it difficult for us. Parents beat their children, brothers beat their sisters, husbands beat their wives, and the wealthy Solara brothers keep iron rods in the boot of their sports car, so handy for street fights. But Elena and Lila are part of a blossoming generation, one that—like the city of Naples itself—is rising out of the traditions of violence and oppression that go hand in hand with poverty into something brighter. Or so it appears at the beginning. By the end of this first installment of Ferrante’s epic Neapolitan series, it seems Fate lifts up one of these young women while holding the other hostage to her culture. Lila is a force that defies definition. A scrawny child, she is like an orphan in a Victorian melodrama: all skin and bones, street smarts and fearlessness. The neighborhood and its residents—from her family, her schoolmates and teachers to the boys who are enchanted by the flare of her intelligence and her eventual swan-like beauty—are blank slates upon which Lila mercilessly etches her vision, her truth. And yet, such promise in a young girl with a sparkling intellect is thwarted by her own ambition. Money is what Lila seeks to yank her from the doom of the women around her: marriage and children before they are twenty, followed by decades of drudgery, their beauty a brief flame snuffed out by duty, submission, ignorance. Lila’s childhood dream of becoming a famous novelist is replaced by the more practical plans of starting a luxury shoe business with her troubled older brother, Rino. But even that scheme is pounded out of possibility by their cobbler father, until one of Lila’s suitors steps in with salvation. Ironically, it is Lila’s beauty that offers her the kind of power she can’t reach even with her preternatural intelligence. ...something had begun to emanate from Lila's mobile body that males sensed, an energy that dazed them, like the swelling sound of beauty arriving. The music had to stop before they returned to themselves, with uncertain smiles and extravagant applause. The tension of female friendship has rarely been so sharply and tenderly displayed in literature. Elena is objective neither with herself nor with Lila, and the push-pull of loathing and love is keenly felt. From the moment Lila drops Elena’s beloved doll into a hole, your sympathies are torn between these two girls, one so cruel and strong and vulnerable, the other naïve and graceless. Elena follows in Lila’s wake, helpless against Lila’s fierce charisma. Although it is Elena who is granted the opportunity to pursue an education beyond middle school, it is Lila who directs her learning. Lila quizzes her, mocks her, competes with her. It is Lila who learns her Latin declensions first, and best. If Elena studies Greek, Lila checks out the available dictionaries from the library. By high school, Elena finds herself formulating her thoughts and arguments as Lila would, using her diction. Elena moves forward in guilt mixed with a sense of triumph—it is she who is offered the education, despite knowing the Lila is her intellectual superior. Ferrante’s writing is stripped to the bone, but the marrow within is so rich and satisfying. This world of post-war Naples is vivid and visceral, every line colored in with careful detail. Elena returns from several weeks of summer holiday to find ...the sun had made me shining blonde, but my face, my arms, my legs were as if painted with dark gold. As long as I had been immersed in the colors of Ischia, amid sunburned faces, my transformation had seemed suitable; now, restored to the context of the neighborhood, where every face, every street had a sick pallor, it seemed to me excessive, anomalous. The family dynamics (and there is a helpful Index of Characters at the beginning) are free-ranging and messy, feeding directly into the sea of village life—secrets are on full display, feuds are fast and furious, and allegiances change as peace is brokered, then broken. These characters will consume your heart. My Brilliant Friend ends with Lila seeming to give into the inevitable: marriage at the age of sixteen. But recall that this is a story of power. And this story has only just begun.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Em Lost In Books

    I had this book on my radar for so long but I always got distracted by other books (but I think this is the story of 90% of bookworms, so many books so little time. Sigh!) It took me three years to finally read this, and what an adventure this turn out to be. "There was something unbearable in the things, in the people, in the buildings, in the streets that, only if you reinvented it all, as in a game, became acceptable. The essential, however, was to know how to play, and she and I, only she an I had this book on my radar for so long but I always got distracted by other books (but I think this is the story of 90% of bookworms, so many books so little time. Sigh!) It took me three years to finally read this, and what an adventure this turn out to be. "There was something unbearable in the things, in the people, in the buildings, in the streets that, only if you reinvented it all, as in a game, became acceptable. The essential, however, was to know how to play, and she and I, only she and I, knew how to do it." My Brilliant Friend tells us the story of Elena and Lila in Italy of 1950s. They grew up together, went to school together, fell in love together. While Lila was an exceptionally gifted child, Elena was a hardworking girl but they both got the things if they put in their minds that they had to have them. There was a healthy rivalry between these two girls too, and when Lila had to stop her schooling because of poor financial condition of her family. Lila on her own decides to read by borrowing books from the library and taught herself high school courses and Greek. In a way she was not trying to show Elena who was better but she was just trying to sate the hunger in herself to be educated. On the other hand Elena found it necessary that she impress Lila, and everything is alright in her world if Lila is talking to her and being happy with her. If she feels that Lila is not happy with her, she felt like a rejected and a sad puppy. Story is told through Elena and yet clearly Lila won my heart here. I just can’t get enough of her. I wanted to be in her mind and strip her layer by layer and see what goes in that mind. Why she has this mystery around her. She is the portrait of patience, class, someone you want to be like and had the desire to be liked and loved by her. While these two grew up to be brilliant teenagers, this story is not about all this. Ferrante I think did an amazing job when she weaved this story around these two girls and yet managed to show us the culture and the struggle that this south Italian neighborhood was going through. I loved this book and will highly recommend to everyone.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    From the age of two until twelve, I lived in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. During the Industrial Revolution, Merthyr had briefly been the iron capital of the world, but things didn't work out; iron ore became harder to mine, the people running the refining works didn't adopt modern methods quickly enough, the town was too far from the sea. Everything fell apart, and by the 1930s unemployment was running at 80%. When I arrived with my parents in 1960, things had become a little better, but the town was From the age of two until twelve, I lived in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. During the Industrial Revolution, Merthyr had briefly been the iron capital of the world, but things didn't work out; iron ore became harder to mine, the people running the refining works didn't adopt modern methods quickly enough, the town was too far from the sea. Everything fell apart, and by the 1930s unemployment was running at 80%. When I arrived with my parents in 1960, things had become a little better, but the town was still one of the poorest in Britain. Why did we move there? It was the time of the counter-culture: some idealistic peace protesters had decided to found a commune - I still have no idea why they chose Merthyr - and my parents wanted to join them. The members of the commune didn't get on, the usual story, and after a couple of years they disbanded. We were stuck in Merthyr, and that's where I grew up. I attended primary school at Heolgerrig, a little village just outside town. In summer, I walked to and from school, a pleasant trip that lasted about forty minutes. In winter, my siblings and I took the bus. There were two kinds of children at Heolgerrig. The smaller group was the contingent of middle-class kids, most of whom lived on the new estate just down the road from the school. They spoke normal English, though with a Welsh accent, and their parents had white-collar jobs. A couple of other kids also belonged to this group; the one I remember best was Avril Griffiths, the vicar's daughter. Avril was a fat, priggish girl with an annoying manner, whom I hated for all of the five years we were in the same class together. Her younger brother, Wayne, was a bully, and I hated him too. But the majority of the class was quite different. They were the children of the local working class, spoke Welsh by preference, and were poor, dirty and violent. Violence was an integral part of school life. There were fights all the time in the playground, and they weren't friendly; the kids generally wanted to hurt each other. The teachers made frequent use of physical punishment when they thought things were getting out of hand, or sometimes, I thought, just because they were crazy too. There was one particularly dangerous teacher called Mr Haines. He would yell at us when we didn't understand his questions: his favorite expression was "Blocks of wood!" I can hear him yelling it now. He liked to use his cane. The boys, even at age eight or nine, were already fond of playing sexual games. One day, the biggest gang started a game called "Kiss chase", which involved kidnapping girls and dragging them back to the boys' lavatory. I never learned exactly what happened to them there, but when Mr Haines found out he completely lost it and thrashed all the boys who had taken part. I now realise that he only hit the poor, Welsh-speaking boys. I never got hit. But this kind of violence was only a kind of muted background noise behind the real incidents, surprisingly many of which involved permanent disfigurement or death. One boy in the class above me managed to put an eye out using some wood-carving tools; another was killed when he was showing off by the side of the road and fell in front of a car. A particularly memorable and gruesome story started when the school decided to retire the ancient classroom furniture, units which had the seat attached to the desk with a heavy cast-iron frame, and replace them with modern tubular steel tables and plastic chairs. We didn't much like the change, but the upside was that the old desks had not been taken away. They were stacked in a shed out at the side of the yard, and they made a great climbing-frame. Unfortunately, they had not been stacked very carefully. One day a pile collapsed and killed a young child, not one I knew. A couple of weeks later, a fire started during the middle of the night and burned down half the school. It only occurred to me much later that these two events might have been linked. All of the foregoing, however, were still comparatively minor incidents. The big one happened at 9.15 am on October 21 1966 in Aberfan, a few miles down the road from us. A large slag-heap, which hadn't been properly maintained, suddenly turned into a landslide as a result of heavy rainfall. It buried the local school and killed (I just looked it up in Wikipedia) 116 children and 28 adults. My father wanted to go and help with the search and rescue effort; we started crying and made such a fuss that we managed to dissuade him. Anyway, what I wanted to say was that I liked this novel very much. It reminded me of my childhood. [To Le nouveau nom]

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    I just don't get the hype. I found the writing (or translation) incredibly choppy and the story overlong, repetitive and incoherent at times. There must be better writers in Italy than Ferrante.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    "The women in my stories are all echoes of real women who, because of their suffering or their combativeness, have very much influenced my imagination: my mother, a childhood girlfriend, acquaintances whose stories I know. In general I combine their experiences with my own and Delia, Amalia, Olga, Leda, Nina, Elena, Lenù are born out of that mix. But the echo that you noticed maybe derives from an oscillation inside the characters that I’ve always worked on. My women are strong, educated, self-a "The women in my stories are all echoes of real women who, because of their suffering or their combativeness, have very much influenced my imagination: my mother, a childhood girlfriend, acquaintances whose stories I know. In general I combine their experiences with my own and Delia, Amalia, Olga, Leda, Nina, Elena, Lenù are born out of that mix. But the echo that you noticed maybe derives from an oscillation inside the characters that I’ve always worked on. My women are strong, educated, self-aware and aware of their rights, just, but at the same time subject to unexpected breakdowns, to subservience of every kind, to mean feelings. I’ve also experienced this oscillation. I know it well, and that also affects the way I write." Elena Ferrante - The New York Times "Ferrante’s Naples books are essentially about knowledge—its possibilities and its limits. Intellectual knowledge, sexual knowledge, political knowledge. What kind of knowledge does it take to get by in this world? How do we attain that knowledge? How does our knowledge change us and wound us and empower us, often at the same time? What things do we want to know and what would we prefer to leave unknown? What can we control? Who has power over our lives?" Rachel Donadio - The New York Review of Books "Life has actions in it. In reading a novel, it’s profound to experience the self-in-other in memory or contemplation, but it’s sometimes just as profound to experience the self-in-other during moments of decision. In Ferrante, we have both — they’re told in the first person, but they’re the story of more than a single person, of many equally weighted people. The plotting of their stories is so skillful, indeed so unplotted, in the sense that life is unplotted, in the sense that we don’t know the future, that as readers we suddenly exist both in other actions and in their actors’ consciousness of them. Not the latter alone." Charles Finch - The Millions There are so many layers at work in this astonishing novel that I don't even know where to begin... As soon as you start reading Elena Ferrante, you know you are in the hands of an extraordinary writer whose mind, heart and natural abilities have inextricably fused in the greatest of fires. The writing takes over your days and nights, seeps into your veins like crack. Straight into your bloodstream. Very much like Karl Ove Knausgaard, she is able to play with the clearest, most fluid language to evoke simultaneously the multitude of details of everyday life and the ever shifting patterns of the mind. The words sizzle with grace, candor, terror and light. The birth of a friendship between two little Neapolitan girls born in 1944 becomes the conduit for a ruthless and intoxicating exploration of what it means to become yourself. What is innate and what is acquired? What part of life is random luck and predestination? What part of character is emulation and what part is natural gift? How does the will to power play out if you are born poor in an uneducated and violent environment? How much does the past affect our present lives and can you escape it? I read this breathtaking book over the course of three days, almost in a trance, and it seems that I have no choice but to echo what Charles Finch wrote at the end of his piece on his year of reading in 2014 for The Millions: "What I do know is that before 2014, I thought Philip Roth was the greatest novelist alive. Now, for me, he’s second." That says it all.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dolors

    Much has been said about this book, the first of the Naples trilogy, and by many. I opened this novel with the expectation to be enthralled in a world I could relate to, with characters that would bring back echoes of my own childhood and adolescence and also hoping to be surprised by Ferrante’s unique conception of friendship. It turns out the book did nothing of the sort. That doesn’t mean I can’t understand why some readers feel attracted to it, as I detect a sort of addictiveness in Ferrante’s Much has been said about this book, the first of the Naples trilogy, and by many. I opened this novel with the expectation to be enthralled in a world I could relate to, with characters that would bring back echoes of my own childhood and adolescence and also hoping to be surprised by Ferrante’s unique conception of friendship. It turns out the book did nothing of the sort. That doesn’t mean I can’t understand why some readers feel attracted to it, as I detect a sort of addictiveness in Ferrante’s style that I can’t rightly place. My fault, probably. Ferrante’s ability to paint a dexterous tableau vivant of Naples in the mid-fifties is undeniable; its gratuitous gender violence, the pressing presence of the Camorra that threatens the lives of young and old in a modest working neighborhood, the weight of a patriarchal system that harasses girls of all ages… it all leaps off the page, and yet, and yet… My reservations arise from the lack of emotion with which all the above is framed by the two protagonists of the story: Lenu and Lila. They couldn’t be more different, Lila is daring, kind of a rebel, Lenu is dependant, a follower. And still, who is the “brilliant friend” in this story? The narrator or the narrated? Ferrante seems to suggest that Lila’s potential is subdued by her circumstances, but Lenu manages to flourish in them, as if she sucked her friend’s talent in spite of her apparent dominance over everybody around her. Promising, right? There is basis for a great story in this novel, one that could easily portray the true meaning of friendship, including its ugly side marred by envy and jealousy, but my response is undermined by the way in which Ferrante carried it through, which was, in my opinion, insipid in literary terms. Flat. Lifeless. I wasn’t pulled into the story, I couldn’t empathize with neither of the characters and I did find little narrative beauty in Ferrante’s unpolished sentences. I’ll confess that the last page didn’t urge me to get the next installment; I just felt relieved to see the abrupt ending that gave me the perfect excuse to let these two girls go on their ways without me. Closing the book felt like having eaten a bunch of junk food, easy to gobble up but knowing it will provide little nourishment to one’s body…or reading soul, in this case. So, no harm in doing that from time to time, but not on a daily basis.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Candi

    "It was as if, because of an evil spell, the joy or sorrow of one required the sorrow or joy of the other; even our physical aspect, it seemed to me, shared in that swing." Elena and Lila, a friendship born of necessity – the need to find another human soul that understands us, our longings and sorrows - someone to emulate, someone that drives each of us to become our very best self. These two girls, born into poverty in 1950s Naples, forge a relationship that is both captivating and completely "It was as if, because of an evil spell, the joy or sorrow of one required the sorrow or joy of the other; even our physical aspect, it seemed to me, shared in that swing." Elena and Lila, a friendship born of necessity – the need to find another human soul that understands us, our longings and sorrows - someone to emulate, someone that drives each of us to become our very best self. These two girls, born into poverty in 1950s Naples, forge a relationship that is both captivating and completely authentic. There is something about a novel told from the point of view of an adult looking back at his or her childhood that thoroughly captures my attention and feels so convincing. Even if I cannot relate to the circumstances or the surroundings, the emotions are so very real and bring back such sharp memories of my own inexperience and innocent yearnings. With keen insight and skillful writing, Elena Ferrante has crafted a vivid account of two young lives struggling to rise above the usual fate of those born into such harsh conditions. The impoverishment and violence of the neighborhood are part of the daily fabric of Elena and Lila’s lives, but they dream of a life elevated above those around them. The key to achieving this dream – education. "In that last year of elementary school, wealth became our obsession. We talked about it the way characters in novels talk about searching for treasure… Then, I don’t know why, things changed and we began to link school to wealth. We thought that if we studied hard we would be able to write books and that the books would make us rich. Wealth was still the glitter of gold coins stored in countless chests, but to get there all you had to do was go to school and write a book." Oh yes, there was a time when I believed diligent studying would achieve similar results! What little girl doesn’t dream of becoming rich or famous?! Both girls work hard, but it is quite evident that Lila is the dominant one in the relationship – academics come easy to her and Elena finds herself wanting to reach those same heights. She often feels inferior to Lila and it becomes her goal to keep up with her, but believing she can never surpass the brilliance of her friend. Of course, the competition between two coming-of-age girls doesn’t just end at schoolwork. The fragility of such a relationship is further tested by the attraction they hold for the boys of the neighborhood. In this arena, Elena perhaps feels she has an advantage over Lila: "In general I was the pretty one, while she was skinny, like a salted anchovy, she gave off an odor of wildness, she had a long face, narrow at the temples, framed by two bands of smooth black hair." However, true to the nature of girlhood, feelings of inadequacy settle in and Elena feels second-string once again. "But Lila now had retaken the upper hand, satisfaction had magnified her beauty, while I, overwhelmed by schoolwork, exhausted by my frustrated love for Nino, was growing ugly again. My healthy color faded, the acne returned. And suddenly one morning the specter of glasses appeared." I couldn’t help but wish that Elena would stand up for herself, value herself as an individual separate from her attachment to Lila. Lila, the leader and Elena, the follower – certainly a familiar dynamic in a friendship. I wonder who benefits most from these friendships. Perhaps Elena needed the competition to drive her own ambition and rise above her circumstances. But Lila too needed someone to ground her, give her some sense of stability in her own life. I think perhaps such relationships are fluid – giving and receiving on both ends at different times, always changing along with the trials and tribulations each experiences. Ferrante does an exceptional job of examining the complexities of friendships and this is what I found to be the most fascinating aspect of this novel. The ending leaves one with a question and the desire to grab the second book in the series. Without a doubt, I will do exactly that. I am eager to follow not just Elena and Lila’s friendship but also to learn more about the fate of the large cast of characters – especially Nino, Stefano, Rino, Pasquale, Antonio, and even the city of Naples itself.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    Oh, Ms. Ferrante, hello there. No, I haven’t heard of you before. I’m so sorry. Oh, you’re an author? I like books. In fact, I even read books occasionally. I literally, like, open them and turn the pages and read the text inside them and everything. But, yeah, I haven’t heard of you. Wait, hold on, Ms. Ferrante. Can I call you Elena? No? Sorry. Ms. Ferrante, I have never heard of you before, but this guy on a podcast recommended you and your books, something about a series of books. There was t Oh, Ms. Ferrante, hello there. No, I haven’t heard of you before. I’m so sorry. Oh, you’re an author? I like books. In fact, I even read books occasionally. I literally, like, open them and turn the pages and read the text inside them and everything. But, yeah, I haven’t heard of you. Wait, hold on, Ms. Ferrante. Can I call you Elena? No? Sorry. Ms. Ferrante, I have never heard of you before, but this guy on a podcast recommended you and your books, something about a series of books. There was this link, and I clicked onit, and now here I am. And, boy, you would not believe how popular you are on Goodreads! My goodness! People love you! Alright, fine, so I guess I start with My Brilliant Friend and just go from there? This is like a whole series about growing up or something? And people find this to be, you know, engaging? I mean don’t get me wrong. I read the plot and all, but I’m just not sure this is really my thing. I mean we should discuss the kinds of books I read. I read, you know, lots of genres, but this just feels like it was written for someone else. Someone else who is not me. Like a different someone. Not me. Hey, so, Elena, yeah... you sure this isn’t a mystery?! Lila disappeared in the prologue. I do enjoy a good mystery. I just read one, in fact, about a woman. She was in a window. Crazy stuff ensued from there. It was crazy! What? This isn’t like that? But... Hey, does anything ever happen in this book? Like, I get it. There are these two girls growing up together, kinda drifting apart into separate worlds, but is there a plot? Is jealousy a plot or just an emotion? Are they just going to compare themselves to each other and then the book ends with them deciding to accept their differences and just build a bridge and figuratively get over it? No. That came out of nowhere. There is a plot! There are surprises! There is violence! Whoa! I didn’t see that or that or that coming. Alright, time to breathe a little. More comparison. There’s a lot of shoes in this book, too. I guess that’s fine. Shoes are important. Shoes and jealousy. That’s what My Brilliant Friend is really about. Shoes, jealously, and Italy. Shoes, jealousy, Italy, and school. That’s basically it. Hey! What the heck is that all about? Why did that happen? Oh man! Things were going pretty decently for the most part, I guess. Why?! Ahhh!! So, what, now do I just read the next book? Anyway, how was I so captivated by a story where nothing much happens until it does happen? Why am I so invested in these two girls, and their town, and their friends, and their enemies? What have I done? Who am I?! Shoes, jealousy, Italy, and school. I never really liked any of those things until I read your book, Ms. Ferrante. Thank you for this. This was a nice surprise.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cathrine ☯️

    A not so satisfying read for me. By many other accounts, a great book and writer. The first part of a trilogy beginning with childhood girlfriends who, come to find out, don’t get past the age of 16 in this first installment. And therein lies my problem with it. I wanted it to move into their adult years and become more interesting and relevant to me personally. I should state that I rarely enjoy reading about childhood from the child’s perspective for an entire book. For the duration, it read l A not so satisfying read for me. By many other accounts, a great book and writer. The first part of a trilogy beginning with childhood girlfriends who, come to find out, don’t get past the age of 16 in this first installment. And therein lies my problem with it. I wanted it to move into their adult years and become more interesting and relevant to me personally. I should state that I rarely enjoy reading about childhood from the child’s perspective for an entire book. For the duration, it read like the early pages of a novel you’re trying to get through so you can get to the main storyline. Half way in and beyond, I’m still reading about translating latin and struggling with studying and class exams along with the onset of puberty and its challenges. Reflections of poor children growing up in tough surroundings during a six year period of time. Then it ends abruptly, like part I of a big novel with no part II. I can say that if I was willing to read the second book I might enjoy it as it was just getting interesting. Not within my personal interest radar. But it looks like I’m in the minority.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    Early in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, the narrator arrives at the eponymous farmhouse and has the following exchange with the Earnshaws' servant, Joseph: ‘What are ye for?’ he shouted. ‘T' maister's down i' t' fowld. Go round by th' end o' t' laith, if ye went to spake to him.’ ‘Is there nobody inside to open the door?’ I hallooed, responsively. ‘There's nobbut t' missis; and shoo'll not oppen 't an ye mak' yer flaysome dins till neeght.’ Charming. Now imagine, for a moment, that the scene had Early in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, the narrator arrives at the eponymous farmhouse and has the following exchange with the Earnshaws' servant, Joseph: ‘What are ye for?’ he shouted. ‘T' maister's down i' t' fowld. Go round by th' end o' t' laith, if ye went to spake to him.’ ‘Is there nobody inside to open the door?’ I hallooed, responsively. ‘There's nobbut t' missis; and shoo'll not oppen 't an ye mak' yer flaysome dins till neeght.’ Charming. Now imagine, for a moment, that the scene had instead been written like this: ‘What do you want?’ he shouted in dialect. ‘The master's down in the fold. Go round past the end of the barn if you want to speak to him.’ ‘Is there nobody inside to open the door,’ I hallooed, responsively, in English. ‘There's no one but the mistress; and she won't open even if you make that dreadful noise until nighttime.’ It's more immediately comprehensible, certainly; but it's productive to think about what might have been lost in such a version. This is somewhat the situation you are in with Elena Ferrante's novels, in which the use of ‘dialect’ is made to assume gigantic significance, while never actually being shown to us. At first I thought the constant dialogue tags – ‘she said in Italian’, ‘he replied in dialect’ – were a device of the translator to show where Ferrante herself was switching between standard Italian and Neapolitan. But no; in fact, the original writing is all in purest Italian and those markers (in dialetto, in italiano) are just the same for Italian readers as they are for me. While I was reading, and enjoying, this book, I was also struggling to work out what about this was bothering me. The thing is, casual readers would be forgiven for thinking that Ferrante's ‘dialect’ is some ungrammatical or degraded urban street version of Italian; in fact, of course, Neapolitan is a sister-language with a long, proud literary and administrative history. The Kingdom of Naples isn't some medieval nonentity – it lasted right up to the Risorgimento, and didn't really join ‘Italy’ until 1861. Neapolitan is no more a dialect than the Florentine dialect which has been enshrined (arbitrarily) as standard Italian. (At unification, by the way, the proportion of Italians who spoke ‘Italian’ has been estimated at no more than 2.5 percent.) I put ‘dialogue’ in inverted commas before because the words ‘language’ and ‘dialect’ do not have any scientific meaning in linguistics, and the decision to call something a dialect is, in the end, a sociopolitical one. We see in this book that people speak ‘pure Italian’, ‘good Italian’, but ‘rough dialect’, ‘the thickest dialect’; Neapolitan is what they use for shouting, swearing, insulting, getting excited. Lenù's boyfriend frustrates her because ‘he never abandoned dialect, and in dialect it was hard to discuss the corruption of earthly justice’ and other high-flown intellectual topics; when he falls out with her (though this is actually at the start of the second book, not this one), it's specifically because ‘he heard scarcely any dialect in [Lenù's] voice, he noted the long sentence, the subjunctives, and he lost his temper’. Even the toastmaster at Lila's wedding is originally chosen on the grounds that he ‘had married a Florentine woman and had taken on the local accent’. Of course, people really do look down on minority languages, they really are associated with poor education and low social status, and to that extent Ferrante is reflecting the reality of the situation. (In Naples as everywhere else – my wife was always told off at school in Edinburgh if she ever used ‘heid’ for ‘head’ or ‘ken’ for ‘know’.) And yet so much of the novel is about overturning preconceptions about Lenù's friends and neighbours, about restoring some respect to the lives of the working class in this neighbourhood; the novel aims to give a voice to a community that a lot of people do not hear from or understand. While this is often powerfully done, the book itself, on a sociolinguistic level, is profoundly conservative. Something about this friction sat uneasily with me and modulated the way I was reacting to the story. News that RAI and HBO are producing a TV series of these books raises my hopes that a screen version will – perversely – foreground the language issue in a way that the literary version doesn't quite. Since it's being made in Italian, it's hard to imagine that the producers could duck the issue of using Neapolitan in the way that Ferrante can duck it in text – as a regional language, its use in oral contexts like film and music (’O sole mio, most famously) is, I suppose, more acceptable than in print. I get a sense of how Lila and Antonio and the Solaras sound – but it's distant, even allowing for the fact that I'm reading in translation. Maybe, on screen, I'll feel like I'm finally hearing their voices.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    What makes something a page-turner? This book is more than the sum of its (considerable) parts: Yes, the writing is great, the setting is vivid, the period sometimes shocking, the protagonist relatable and fun, the best friend one of the spunkiest, most endearing characters I've encountered, the supporting cast is varied and dizzying and each stands alone. But still: why am I gasping in shock when someone wears a particular pair of shoes. Why am I staying up late at night to finish? What happens What makes something a page-turner? This book is more than the sum of its (considerable) parts: Yes, the writing is great, the setting is vivid, the period sometimes shocking, the protagonist relatable and fun, the best friend one of the spunkiest, most endearing characters I've encountered, the supporting cast is varied and dizzying and each stands alone. But still: why am I gasping in shock when someone wears a particular pair of shoes. Why am I staying up late at night to finish? What happens in this book is often great and often fascinating, but what makes it a classic are the countless little moments of peace and the way that its not scared to repeat itself OR to veer wildly off course to follow its characters. It's like life, in that way. Another way it's like life? Those damn Italian male names are impossible to keep straight. The dramatis personae list at the front is invaluable. As to who or what Ferrante really is? I like dust-ups as much as the next person, but man, do I not care. I just wish there were more books about female friendships.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Esil

    Much has been written about My Brilliant Friend, so I'm not sure what I can add except for a few reactions to what I see as the three main characters: < Elena -- my heart aches for you. We all know an Elena (and some of us are Elena). The brilliant second fiddle, who is too focused and intertwined with her friend Lila's life to appreciate her own talents, successes and hopes. I want to shake Elena, and to tell her to let go of Lila -- just a bit at least -- to stop hanging on Lila's every word Much has been written about My Brilliant Friend, so I'm not sure what I can add except for a few reactions to what I see as the three main characters: < Elena -- my heart aches for you. We all know an Elena (and some of us are Elena). The brilliant second fiddle, who is too focused and intertwined with her friend Lila's life to appreciate her own talents, successes and hopes. I want to shake Elena, and to tell her to let go of Lila -- just a bit at least -- to stop hanging on Lila's every word and emotions, and to find her own place... < Lila -- you too are brilliant, but you are so so hard on yourself and others. And Lila too is recognizable -- although maybe not the extent of her brutality. Lila has a bit of love to dispense, but mostly she has so much anger tightly coiled inside her. I want to tell her first to breathe, and then to slow down before something terrible happens... < Naples -- yes, Naples is its own character in this book. You are so harsh, Naples, and you should hang your head in shame for making life so harsh for Elena and Lila, for creating the space in which these strong, brilliant, love starved and flawed characters experience lives defined by poverty, deprivation, grittiness and brutality. Naples' complex layers of history, religion, criminality and politics make for a sharp edged vibrancy that is both fascinating and repulsive. And now I have to find out what happens next in volume 2...

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Reading Hacks for La Dolce Vita Goodreaders, as self-selected members of this elite club, already know about “The Good Life” with books. My purpose here is to push for more of the same but with a bit of Italian panache. The list starts generically with tips for increasing the quality and quantity of your Italian reading adventures, then turns specifically towards Elena Ferrante’s celebrated Neapolitan Novels. 1. Book in one hand, cannoli in the other. This takes the “dolce” part of the phrase liter Reading Hacks for La Dolce Vita Goodreaders, as self-selected members of this elite club, already know about “The Good Life” with books. My purpose here is to push for more of the same but with a bit of Italian panache. The list starts generically with tips for increasing the quality and quantity of your Italian reading adventures, then turns specifically towards Elena Ferrante’s celebrated Neapolitan Novels. 1. Book in one hand, cannoli in the other. This takes the “dolce” part of the phrase literally. Actually, a scoop of gelato would work well, too, as long as you don’t let it drip out of the cone. 2. Bite of cheese, sip of wine, page of book. Bite of cheese, sip of wine, page of book. Looking to decompress after a long day at work? Feeling a little peckish? This formula, or variations on it, can work well. For instance, you can alter the pace to make it a bite, a sip, and half a page. I would say, however, that if it’s a big chunk of cheese, three swigs of wine, and a sentence of the book, that we'd no longer consider this reading. As a side note, asiago cheese with one of those super Tuscans are hard to beat. 3. For fans of Italian football, use the door-bolt wisely. Italian teams have been known for decades for their stout defending. They’re the masters of the 1-0 victory. And as soon as one side gets the 1, they bolt the door shut (Catenaccio, as they translate it) with a packed-in defense. Use this time to either read or switch to an English Premier League match. 4. Got a favorite pasta sauce recipe? Try Bertolli’s instead. Even Nonna might forgive you if the half an hour of prep time you save goes towards a book series this good. I’m pushing hard to convince you this one is worth the compromise. 5. The literary equivalent of a layover at the Aeroporto di Napoli doesn’t count. Full immersion into the culture and characters of Elena Ferrante’s tetralogy does. It’s important to note that Naples itself is a character, much like Guernsey is for The Book of Ebenezer Le Page or upstate New York is in those great Richard Russo novels. In fact, after an hour of reading Ferrante you may be surprised to look up and find that you’re not in a loud, dusty, sun-drenched piazza. 6. Tired of stick figures? Ferrante’s are damn near Rubenesque. I’m speaking figuratively here, of course. The two central characters, Lenu (the narrator) and Lila (her brilliant friend) are remarkably well-drawn, with all the complexity and nuance that we love as we study the human animal. We’re treated to an epic sweep of changes, too, as we track the two of them from childhood to old age. Lenu was always the second smartest and most conscientious student in their early school days. Lila was the truly gifted one. She was the quickest at math, the one who could pick up languages with ease (including proper Italian, which was not their native tongue), and had a flair for art and writing. It’s fair to say she was wicked smart. By that I mean both “wicked” as in “very” (the Bostonian modifier) and “wicked” as in not always nice. It took me long time to figure out that those with a keen intellect don’t necessarily choose smooth paths for themselves or live lives worth emulating. Lila was often hard to figure. She was principled in her own way, but fiercely independent and confident in her ability to get out of the trouble she found; sometimes overconfident. Lenu was always more controlled, but could also be seduced by her friend’s phrenic brightness and behavioral darkness. Like I said, it’s all deliciously complicated. 7. Dolci by themselves do not make a meal. If you wonder at times if the authors you read once wrote for Hallmark, you may be lacking conflict. This series may be just what you need. The part of Naples where the girls grew up was backward, poor, and violent. Family dynamics were often messy, friends weren’t always true, and the politics were, as a matter of course, contentious. Class warfare was de rigueur. Navigating such waters took real skill, and maybe a few lucky gusts. 8. Before MeToo they had FYou. Battles between the sexes featured prominently. As a young teen, Lila once stood up to the son of a local strong-armed money-lender who was hitting on her and Lenu. Her threat – a knife to the throat – was completely credible. And the guy became smitten. (Go figure.) Lila wanted nothing to do with him, but then entered some ill-advised relationships with other young men. Lenu was not always lucky in love either. Duplicity, power struggles, bad communication – there was plenty to fuel the fires. We find, too, that the women were accomplished combatants. 9. Head vs. Heart vs. Habitat. At any given time, each influence could hold sway in varying degrees. It was fascinating to read these stories with such admixtures in mind. Any attitude or act could have any combination of causes that can vary in us all. These books bring this out better than most. BTW, turning the same attribution analysis on ourselves can be a pretty interesting exercise, too. 10. Embrace the unknown. As you may have heard, it’s still a mystery who the pseudonymous Elena Ferrante really is. She’s never made a personal appearance, has never allowed a photograph, and has only ever given the sketchiest of details about her life. She said she was born in Naples in 1943. That’s about all amateur sleuths have to go on. That doesn’t preclude the gathering of real estate records and matching them against royalty checks, or computer analysis of writing styles, or listing those with a similar knowledge of modern Italian politics in attempts to figure her true identity. One analysis even said she was a man, but I seriously doubt that. Ferrante herself, in a response published in Vanity Fair, disabused us of that notion, taking offense that “questions about her gender are rooted in a presumed ‘weakness’ of female writers.” I'll take weak like Ferrante any day! For this list, I’m stopping at ten. That should suffice, shouldn’t it? This isn’t a review of Spinal Tap, after all. If, after following these tips, your life isn’t technically more “dolce”, the hope is that you’ll at least think it’s more edified. It’s a good bet you’ll feel a greater savvy about people and their entanglements. (I was going to say “spaghetti-like entanglements,” but then figured that with Italian references, like grappa, there’s a tipping point.)

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Durrant

    As my rating reflects, I was overwhelmed by this novel. The only Ferrante novel I had read before was her "Days of Abandonment," which I thought overheated (and overrated). I retract any previous negative judgment: she is a major contemporary novelist and I will now go on immediately to her second Neapolitan novel, "The Story of a New Name." This is a coming of age novel, true, but it is also much more than that. The relationship between Lila and Lenu, the latter the narrator, has a bit of the M As my rating reflects, I was overwhelmed by this novel. The only Ferrante novel I had read before was her "Days of Abandonment," which I thought overheated (and overrated). I retract any previous negative judgment: she is a major contemporary novelist and I will now go on immediately to her second Neapolitan novel, "The Story of a New Name." This is a coming of age novel, true, but it is also much more than that. The relationship between Lila and Lenu, the latter the narrator, has a bit of the Mozart-Saliari theme: the frustration of the simply smart person up against someone of almost supernatural genius. The relationship unfolds in the suburbs of Naples with a surprising reversal, as we come to realize just who the "Brilliant Friend" really is. And the world of 1950s and 60s Naples is a brutal one, with young men obsessed to protect brutally their own "honor" and the imagined "honor" of the girls around them. Still, there is much, much more to this novel than I can go into here--it is a complex work filled with beautiful gems, particularly toward the end. I know of the mystery surrounding Elena Ferrante and the suggestion of some that she might be a male writer assuming a female name. Maybe, but I sense something very, very authentic about the voice of Lenu and the brutalizing male world that surrounds her and cannot quite believe a man could have written this (see also James Wood's comments on this issue).

  28. 4 out of 5

    Malia

    After finishing Elena Ferrante's first novel in the Neapolitan Trilogy, I am of two minds. On the one hand, being a writer myself, it is demotivating, due to its frank brilliance; on the other, for an enthusiastic reader, it is thought-provoking and deeply engaging. And to think, this is only a translation! Though I am undeniably envious of Ferrante's beautiful skill with words, I have to acknowledge that the growing hype around her is totally warranted, and in fact, I want to add to it:-) The st After finishing Elena Ferrante's first novel in the Neapolitan Trilogy, I am of two minds. On the one hand, being a writer myself, it is demotivating, due to its frank brilliance; on the other, for an enthusiastic reader, it is thought-provoking and deeply engaging. And to think, this is only a translation! Though I am undeniably envious of Ferrante's beautiful skill with words, I have to acknowledge that the growing hype around her is totally warranted, and in fact, I want to add to it:-) The story is not the most remarkable, but it is the manner in which it is told that captivates the reader. There is such fervor, but it is beautifully balanced with deeply nuanced thoughtfulness. The voice of Lenu is unique, yet relatable, and the manner in which the story unfolds, at times slowly and masterfully, at other times quick and jolting, makes for a highly engaging read. I have read all three available books (The Story of a New Name, and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay - the next one is coming out in September!!) and can only recommend them. The story grows deeper as the characters grow older, and begin to see the world around them through the eyes of young adults and grown women. Truly remarkable books! A little update: The Story of the Lost Child was a brilliant ending to this series, read them all! Update: Today Ferrante's identity has been '"revealed" by an intrusive article by The New York Review of Books. Though there was obviously curiosity on my part surrounding the person behind the name, the story and the imagination, I think it is important to remember she is an author, not a criminal or someone who deserves to be investigated and found out. It was her right to remain anonymous, and I find it disappointing and unethical for the Times to have outed her unwillingly. Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com

  29. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    Lila and Elena, childhood friends in a neighborhood of 1950s Naples, both wear the moniker “my brilliant friend,” but there is no question which of the two Ferrante meant. Elena continues her schooling through high school in this first installment of the trilogy of novels Ferrante has written about the two, while Lila, incandescent Lila, is held back from further schooling by her family claiming they cannot afford it. Instead, Lila takes books from a small neighborhood lending library to study o Lila and Elena, childhood friends in a neighborhood of 1950s Naples, both wear the moniker “my brilliant friend,” but there is no question which of the two Ferrante meant. Elena continues her schooling through high school in this first installment of the trilogy of novels Ferrante has written about the two, while Lila, incandescent Lila, is held back from further schooling by her family claiming they cannot afford it. Instead, Lila takes books from a small neighborhood lending library to study on her own the subjects Elena struggles to master. Together they test one another, spiking the interest levels and capabilities of both. 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: grasping in the dark for something we cannot see, hoping that it will bring what we imagine, not knowing which 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.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Phrynne

    Well that was a real reading experience or listening really since I had the audio book! So beautifully written and of course equally beautifully translated from the original Italian. A totally absorbing story of friendship, love and growing up in small town poverty. The closeness of the friendship between Elena and Lila was fascinating especially as it survived all the ups and downs of their growing up and there were plenty. I must admit to occasionally wanting Elena to get a grip on herself and Well that was a real reading experience or listening really since I had the audio book! So beautifully written and of course equally beautifully translated from the original Italian. A totally absorbing story of friendship, love and growing up in small town poverty. The closeness of the friendship between Elena and Lila was fascinating especially as it survived all the ups and downs of their growing up and there were plenty. I must admit to occasionally wanting Elena to get a grip on herself and stand up to her friend but then both girls were only able to make judgements based on the limited knowledge each had of the world. I really enjoyed the whole book and became very attached to many of the characters. The ending was amazing - those shoes! I am keen to get to book two now to see what happens although I think we have enough clues already as to how successful Lila's marrage will be!

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