Book Review: My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante is an Italian author, born in Naples.  In actual fact, Elena Ferrante does not exist, this is a pseudonym under which the author writes, to maintain her privacy.  My Brilliant Friend is the first of a series of four books, book one of the Neapolitan Novels, which explores the life long friendship between Elena and Lila.  It has a somewhat autobiographical feel to it (the main characters name would also suggest this), however, the author has neither confirmed nor denied this.

This first book begins with the disappearance of Lila and so in order to help us understand the events leading up to this, Elena takes us back to the beginning of their friendship, which starts in their hometown of Naples in the 1950's, in a poor neighbourhood, where everyone knows each other, all the kids hang out together  and people look out for each other (albeit with sometimes tension in the air).  The book tackles political issues that surrounded Italy at this time, along with poverty, the move towards technology but importantly it explores the female friendship of Elena and Lila.

I found this book arousing old childhood and adolescent feelings that I had left behind.  From the innocence of childhood, learning and understanding emotions at this tender age, having a best friend that you grow with, even though you have contrasting characters and outlook on life, which in itself brings a whole new set of issues.  Hitting puberty and trying to keep up with it, always thinking that your best friend is prettier, cleverer than you.  This envy and competition between best friends can be stifling at times but also it can be the driving force that encourages us to better ourselves.  This is a very intimate book that is full of deep thoughts around female friendship, best friends in particular.

It can be a little confusing at the beginning, as the author introduces so many characters but they are all a byproduct of understanding the main two characters (albeit an important one), so don't get too flustered will all the other names that get floated around.   

A very compelling and intense read.  I just don't know whether to give myself time to digest this book before reading book two, or whether I should read all four books back to back.  I've become so engrossed, I don't want to read any reviews of the books to follow this one for fear it might give something away.

I dare you to take the Neapolitan plunge!