Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend
By Elena Ferrante; translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein
Europa Editions September 2012
336 pages
From the library

My Brilliant Friend
Elena and Lila grow up together on the poor, violent streets of Naples in the 1950s. They stand out as smart students in their class, but their lives grow apart as Elena continues her education and Lila starts working in the family business and considers starting a family of her own. My Brilliant Friend is the story of two girls becoming young women but it is also an intense character study of a specific neighborhood and people who live there. 

As I read through this book, I was cautiously optimistic. I was interested, but not in a "I stayed up way too late to read another 100 pages" way. All of a sudden, though, I had to know everything that happened to Elena and Lila. Ferrante creates some sort of literary sorcery where the characters start to live off the page and you are spellbound by the everyday occurrences of their lives. 

There are not a lot of stories about friendship. While Elena and Lila experience things that are specific to the time and place in which they live, there is a lot in these pages that is universal to friendship. How do our relationships change when our lives look different? Can we continue to be friends when one stays in school and the other pursues a career and a family? How do we find common ground when our days no longer look the same? The two girls sometimes excel at this and other times, their attempts are foiled by jealousy and uncertainty.

Elena feels second in their friendship in almost every way - Lila is smart without trying and attracts the attention of boys and the admiration and jealousy of girls. But the tables turn when Elena is the one allowed to continue her education and Lila begins working in the family business. Suddenly, Elena has something that Lila desperately wants. While she seems indifferent, Elena is sure that she struggles with the changes in her life. But like all friendships, some things are revealed and some are kept hidden even from the people we love most.

The people who are closest to us are the ones with the greatest ability to hurt us, and so we watch Elena and Lila adore each other and wound each other in equal measure. At the end of My Brilliant Friend, we leave Lila in a brand-new marriage and Elena continuing her education. I am intrigued to see where Ferrante takes these two unforgettable women.


  1. I agree! It feels as though half the time, I'm fighting with my best friends, but it's very much give and take. This sounds like a very interesting take on friendships and how they aren't always perfect!

    1. It was kind of dark for a tale about kids, but it was so compelling!