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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 - and 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.
With My Brilliant Friend, the first in a series, Ferrante proves herself to be one of Italy's greatest storytellers. She has given her readers a masterfully plotted pause-resister, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations - a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new listeners to her work.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By W Perry Hall on 09-14-16
Parte Uno Dei Quattro--It's Worth it to Keep Goin'
I thought I'd chime in on this little novel to say to readers this first part of the so-called Neapolitan novels is worth reading to get to the really good stuff in parts 2, 3 and 4. Do NOT Give Up. I thought about abandoning this about halfway through it. I found books 2-4 addictive.
The author considers the 4 parts as just one novel (it was divided by the publisher into 4 parts). As such, it's really hard to rate My Brilliant Friend as a novel on its on. No doubt, one must read this to fully appreciate and enjoy parts 2, 3 and 4. Here, all the characters and conflicts are introduced as is the poor and violent neighborhood on the Naples outskirts, in itself a character as a magnet where the families live and so many things happen over the course of the books, as it stands at the foot of the infamous Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano on mainland Europe.
Think of it like this: can you think of a great lengthy novel that if you read only 1/4 of it as a stand-alone novel, you'd love it and give it 5 stars. This wasn't written, or intended, to be read as a novel. This one, very similar to the first 1/4 of all really good lengthy novels, is mostly setup, introductions, character development up to, well, up to the teen years of the two main characters.
Viewed as one novel, it's a bildungsroman following the lives of Elena (called “Lenù”) Greco (the novel is told in the first person recollections of Elena) and her razor-sharp, but enigmatic, best friend Raffaella (“Lila”) Cerullo, from childhood, here in My Brilliant Friend, to adulthood.
I'd give this 3 stars as a stand-alone. Yet since it's really the first part of a single novel, I'll give it 4 stars because I'd give the novel an overall 4.5.
The narrator takes a little getting used to, but you'll find that she's perfect as you get into books 2, 3 and 4.
68 of 70 people found this review helpful
By Joe Kraus on 09-18-15
Sweetly Dense and Focused
Any additional comments?
Ferrante seems like the "it" writer of the moment, so I gave this a shot because so many are talking about her. Expecting greatness -- maybe a Nobel candidacy -- I came into this in a demanding mood, and it mostly delivered. In its way, it's a "small" novel, a story that's confined to a handful of characters trapped in the same small neighborhood.
That claim hardly does it justice, though. It's rich in characterization and hunger, and it's a coming-of-society story as much as it is a coming-of-age one. I'm weak on my post-War Italy history, but it's clear that the protagonist is growing into adulthood just as Italy is shaking off the legacy of World War II. There's some explicit talk of building a new society, of forgetting the trajectory of the old ways, and then there are some powerful descriptions of how difficult it is to become someone other than your parents' child.
In the same way, I find this a striking feminist novel, too. The narrator's friendship with Lila is powerful and interesting. They're "frenemies" as much as best friends, and each undercuts the other's ambitions and hopes as often as she supports them. It's a great glimpse, as a male, at the very different dynamic that I've heard my wife and others describe in some of their friendships.
So, I love all that, but there are a few downsides.
First, the narrative is quiet and slow. I found I got hungry for more events, even small ones, but much of what happens is anticipation. Again, that's clever, but I'd like to have seen it culminate in more than it does.
Second, and this may be the same point from a different angle, it doesn't really end. That is, the next book in the cycle seems less a sequel than a continuation. I'm tempted to read it -- I am interested enough in the characters to want to know what becomes of them -- but I'm also ready (for now at least) for a change of pace.
So, on balance, I like this a lot and reserve the right to love it after I get to see more of what follows.
103 of 111 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Susan Whitehead on 05-22-16
My Brilliant friend
Brilliant story l can't wait to read the next book. I did find the American narrator difficult to get used to initially but she grew on me by the end. I wish the chapters corresponded however
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
By Dorothy McGarven on 07-20-15
A brutally honest account of growing up in Naples
This book has found a place in my top 10 audiobooks. It is a story of friendship, told from the point of view of Lenu, she tells about her, and her best friend Lila's childhood, the harsh life they had growing up in Naples in the 1950s and their relationship to one another, each of them is defined by the other.
I started reading the book for a book group and downloaded the audio book as I was busy at the time and wasn't sure I would finish the book in time, so thought I'd be able to cram the story into any spare gaps with the audiobook. Very quickly the book fell by the wayside and I found myself listening to the audiobook for long stretches.
The authors style is nothing I have previously encountered, her prose is spare at a time when most novels tends towards the poetic. The narration is in keeping with the style of the story and is never overly dramatic. The Italian pronunciation was a highlight for me. This may make the story sound boring but in fact the opposite is true, it was refreshing to have the story told frankly and without frills, as if a friend were telling you the story of their life. I think this is part of the reason why so many people love this book.
Add to this the mystery of the author, who has chosen to remain anonymous. There is even some speculation that the author may be a man, although I doubt this, given the inherent underlying feminist principles adopted in the story telling.
I was very sad when this finished but delighted to know that the story continued with the next book, "Story of a New Name".
In summary, this is a book that you will either love or hate. I hope like me, you love it.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful