Title: My Brilliant Friend
Author: Elena Ferrante (trans. by Ann Goldstein)
Genre: Historical Fiction
“Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now…”
This book was lent to me on whim by a friend. She pressed it into my hands and insisted I read it. It sat by my desk for over a week before I finally got round to reading it. My Brilliant Friend tells the story of a poor neighbourhood in Naples after the second world war. It focuses, in particular, on Elena Greco, the narrator, and her friend, Lila. Autobiographical in style, the first installment follows their lives from childhood to adolescence.
I loved the style of the writing though, as with anything read in translation, I do wonder how much of the lyricism of the text is actually conveyed. (I may have to learn Italian so I can read the original). Over the course of the book, Elena reveals how she learnt to write so well, in a way explaining the beauty of the narration. At the heart of the story is Elena’s struggle to separate her own identity from that of her friend Lila, whose dominating personality shapes so many of Elena’s early experiences.
Ferrante ran a risk creating a trilogy in a biographical style – it could easily have had no plot, meandering aimlessly through the years. Instead, the characters truly grow over the course of the novel, and it ends with just enough unanswered questions to make you seek out the second installment.