Book Review - My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Hello dear friends! Thanks for bearing with me as I continue to sort my life out a little bit. I’m back with another book review, and I’m excited. I finished this novel a while ago, and I’m currently on the third in the series. It is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. This novel sets us up with a frame narrative that stretches over the course of the series. It starts with Lenu writing as an adult looking back at her childhood growing up with her friend Lina. There is an instant intrigue about Lila because she always seems to go against the grain. Lenu is in awe of her, proud of her, and also competes with her on an intellectual level. They are truly foils for each other. Their world is complicated, dark, and they are accustomed to death and feuds. Every anecdote centres around violence which makes me uncomfortable in some instances. Lila is deeply affected by the stirring of turmoil, whereas Lenu sees things in black and white. The friendship itself is set up as one full of tension. The two girls are the definition of “opposites attract,” and jealousy seems to be the driving force in their relationship. Lenu knows Lila best. She knows how Lila think and recognises the patterns of her behaviour. What makes this novel interesting is that Lila’s life is filtered through the eyes of Lenu looking back.

The beginning of the novel has a cast of characters – which instantly worried me. Normally, books like this tend to be overly-complicated. It has served me a handful of times (over the course of two and half novels), but I don’t find the novel too difficult to keep straight. I fell in love with the way it is written after the prologue. It is so fascinating to think about childhood through the lens of an adult. There are many moments in the story where the adult voice seeps in as a voice of reason or as a moment of clarity. It adds a certain charm to the novel; there is a clear personality in the way it is written. One of the great things that is made evident is the fear on the part of Lenu that there will be mistakes in interpretation of someone else’s life. I like the role of Lenu as an unreliable narrator. It tells us the story of a place but also hides Lila’s specific experience of every event. We are trying to figure out just how Lila is affected by the events around her along with Lenu. The writing does flow well (I was 150 pages in without realising it), although it took me a while before I managed to be completely interested in it. I will tell you that the second book was easier to get into. Another warning is that the ending is THE WORST for leading you on. The writing is also teeming with culture when it comes to places and food. There is a passion for Italy in this novel. 

We come to realise that Lila is Lenu’s way of escaping her own violence at home. Lila is someone who pulls her to a reality where only they exist as opposites and she needs to be better than her. Through the telling of Lila’s story, Lenu is also able to tell her own story. She grows to realise who she is and how to rise about the typical fate of their upbringing. This novel is about maturation. It is about dealing with the changes in other people as they walk down different paths in life. This is something that I can connect with on so many levels. I understand feeling the disconnect as someone is doing something different than I am. I give this book a 4/5. I absolutely adore the writing itself, but I found it so difficult to get into.


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