italy: my brilliant friend review

Title: My Brilliant Friend
Author: Elena Ferrante
Publisher: Europa

Blurb: Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence. 

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.

Me: This book (and the other ones in the series) has had quite a lot of hype. Elena Ferrante is incredibly famous, and this series in particular has been noted as unique and revolutionary. Going in, I had high expectations and unfortunately, My Brilliant Friend didn't blow me away like I hoped it would.

The book centers around the friendship of two girls, Lila and Lenu, told from Lenu's perspective. Even in youth, Lenu seems to be constantly conscious and somewhat fascinated with Lila, who is  unapologetically unique, passionate, and headstrong. Despite Lila being bolder and more fiery, Lenu is the one who continues the typical road to success, through education. Still Lenu finds herself feeling inferior and inconsequential compared to Lila, and yet cannot stop being pulled to her as friends. 

I really did like the development of their friendship within the community and setting built around them. This book really does show the darker intricacies of a female friendship, revealing discomfort and jealousy and yet still support and love. It's so difficult to fully express the complexity of a platonic relationship between two close friends, but Ferrante does it with incredible honesty. 

I also liked the interactions of both Lila and Lenu with the characters around them. The impacts of their families, their lovers, and their acquaintances on them and their relationship made the story come alive. 

The setting in poorer 1950s Italy was pretty incredible. I loved the unsettling exclusiveness of the Italian communities by economic class, and the normalization of the violence rampant throughout their lives. It was so interesting to see familiar relationships play out in a different setting. 

But the reason I say this book didn't meet my expectations is because of the style and plot. I wasn't drawn in to the story as much as I'd hoped. Maybe it was the translation, but the book was slow to develop and I felt myself losing interest quite a bit. The writing style (again, translation) was more blunt and to the point, and I often have a hard time staying interested without some lyrical description. 

The book also ended with a cliffhanger!! I was almost certain I wouldn't pick up the next book until I read the end and got hooked...we'll see how that goes. 

Overall, a very well-developed and realistic depiction of a friendship, but I wished for more with the language and plot.

Rating: 3 kisses!

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