Rating: 3 stars
Even before the recent ‘outing’ of Elena Ferrante’s true identity, I had been meaning to read her Neapolitan Quartet. I’ve read articles comparing it to Karl Ove Knausgård’s series of books fictionalising his passage through life and his family relationships. I’ve had it recommended to me as something I would enjoy. It has been on my Kindle for a while. In October, I decided I would only read books written by women and, as much as possible, books by women I hadn’t read before. So I came to My Brilliant Friend at the end of the month.
I’ll be honest. I found it a difficult book to immerse myself in. It’s well written but somehow too aware of itself. I felt as though I was being taken through a plot, rather than sharing the experiences of the people in the story. It had peaks and troughs for me. I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading. There have been days when I’ve only managed 30 minutes with it. It hasn’t been because it’s an intellectually difficult read, more that I’ve found it difficult to really connect with the characters. I found it a bit clichéd.
The story follows two friends, Elena and Lila, through their childhood and adolescence in a village outside Naples. Told from Elena’s perspective, it examines the nature of friendship and rivalry, and touches on political and social tensions in Italy in the years after the Second World War. Ferrante depicts village life vividly: the brutality, the closeness of death, with what ease simple actions become destructive and sometimes fatal.