Wednesday, 15 June 2016

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Book Review

My rating: 3 stars

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante - Reading, Writing, Booking

I know I'm a bit behind the times on this one, My Brilliant Friend (Europa Editions) has been on my to-read list for ages but I've taken a while to get round to it. Lots of people have suggested this to me, especially a friend of mine who says the series has perhaps become some of her favourite books. We usually have very similar tastes in books so I was keen to read it, but I have to say, I feel as though I've missed a trick. Sometimes films, books and TV shows live up to the hype (Game of Thrones anyone) but I feel like My Brilliant Friend just didn't quite get there.

Yet I say that with a sense of shame; I feel it must be my fault, not the book's, that I'm simply not intelligent enough to grasp its magnificence.

My Brilliant Friend is the first in a four-book series, known as The Neopolitan Novels, about two friends, Elena and Lila, living in 1950s Naples. This book focuses on their childhood and teenage years as they grow up and both aim for something more than their poor neighbourhood can provide. It is a vivid account of not only their friendship and growth but also of Naples as a city.

It is based on the author's childhood, though Elena Ferrante's is a pseudonym and her identity has never been revealed, making her a figure of mystique and vastly interesting. So much so that she has been named one of Time Magazine's 100 most Influential People on the Planet in 2016.

I didn't dislike the book, in fact I enjoyed reading it, it was strangely comforting which is odd as the subject manner is sometimes quite dark, with murder, abuse and domestic violence making up the background to the novel. I think it was the story-telling perspective of the young Elena; she somehow manages to be innocent and sometimes very naive in her backdrop of passionate and violent family and neighbours.

The blurb is a bit misleading, calling it a "ravishing and generous-hearted novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime." This makes you think My Brilliant Friend is going to be a sweet story about friendship pitted against the odds. Which in a way it is but it's also a lot more gritty than that. One of the things I did like was that it shows friendship and childhood very realistically. Elena and Lila are best friends yet also rivals, always competing to outdo the other. They also feel like they need each other, that the other doesn't quite exist fully without the other one. I recognised some of these elements from my young friendships and it did strike a chord.

The cover is also a bit misleading too; there is a wedding in the book, but the cover makes it seem more important than it is and gives it an all round rather soppy look. And this book definitely isn't soppy.

I think my main issue with My Brilliant Friend is that I kept expecting something big to happen and it never did. There are lots of smaller woes and troubles but I think I had it in my head that there was going to be some huge climax. It sort of potters along, describing these girls' lives in a lazy sort of way, showing their life of poverty without necessarily becoming too involved. Because of the prologue, which is set in the present and involves Lila going missing, I thought the story was going to be more of a mystery thriller, but it didn't get there. The series has three more books so it must bring it back to this point, it just takes its time!

I feel My Brilliant Friend is a good book but one that can't quite live up to its own reputation.

Having said that, I did find myself thinking about the characters when I finished and wondering what happened to them, so it obviously affected me more than I realised. So, I have borrowed the next book, The Story of a New Name, from my friend and am looking forward to reading it.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante - Reading, Writing, Booking

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