I read My Brilliant Friend obsessively and found myself taken over completely by the lives and the characters Elena Ferrante created. This book will keep you reading and yearning for more.
Ferrante tells the story of friendship, love, competition, family and striving amid the casual violence of a working class neighborhood in Naples, Italy. Here, people roll with their emotions first and think later. Passion rules.
Although the locale may feel exotic, the story of the relationships seemed familiar to me. I grew up in Queens, New York.
In Ferrante’s neighborhood, it all starts young. Parents, kids, neighbors, shopkeepers all yell. They hit. They hate. They sometimes get over it and they love.
Grudges and family feuds count and go on and on in this closed world where everyone falls into an assigned role with the expectation that they and their children will continue in the same way, in the same place, forever.
The book follows Elena Greco and her friend Leila, or Lina, Cerrullo as they try to figure out life and where they fit. Ferrante uses Elena’s voice and writes frankly about her childhood exploration, her intellectual and sexual confusion and her steady quest to pull herself out of the neighborhood and to transform into something more.
Elena questions herself constantly about her worth. She measures herself and her intelligence and her dogged pursuit of knowledge against Leila’s recklessness and her intuitive and keen mind.
Leila leaves school after the fifth grade, yet continues to study even though she gets caught up by her family’s demands and an ill-suited marriage at fifteen.
The push and pull between the two young women and their friends drives the story and you cheer and despair for everyone.
I’m waiting to get back into it all in when the fourth and final installment comes out at the end of August.
In the meantime, here’s another good book to read in August.