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My Brilliant Friend


My Brilliant Friend

Elana Ferrante

Book 1, The Neapolitan Series


In this tale of two friends, Ferrante takes us back to a poor neighbourhood in Naples in the 1950’s. Drama is in plentiful supply in this Italian town where macho bullies abound, and women are driven mad by love. Elena and Lila run the gauntlet daily as they dodge this cast of characters, but they cannot outrun their own mothers who are determined that their daughters should marry well.

Struggling to fulfill their academic potential in a culture where education is seen as a frivolous option for girls, they test the boundaries and forge their own paths, determined not to become trapped in the poverty of their parents. Initially, the pace of the narrative is quite slow, however it increases by the halfway mark as the girls push forward into adulthood, making decisions that will have life-long consequences.

Two things struck me about this culture. First, I was repelled by the casual violence against women and girls.  In this macho society, men dealt with problems with their fists, including marital arguments.  These events are a common occurrence in the narrative, eliciting neither surprise nor outrage from the other players.

The second thing I noticed was the insular nature of life in Naples during the 50's and 60's.  Girls rarely went beyond primary school, unlike North America, where it was common at that time. Limited not only by custom but also by lack of funds, they had to pay for the books and private tutoring necessary to succeed in school, frequently making it impossible.  Our heroine was an anomaly, and this provoked many conflicts with her family and peers.

Translated from the original Italian, the story paints a vivid picture of the Neapolitan lifestyle of the period.  The colourful characters alternately excite and enrage the reader, leaving us wondering what will happen in the sequel.  

My Brilliant Friend by sonja_library