I loved it!
I’m ordering book two in the series later this week.
But I don’t really have much to say about Elena Ferrnte’s wonderful novel My Brilliant Friend translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.
Not much but I did note three things.
First how similar the novel is to Miles Franklin’s 1901 novel My Brilliant Career, not just in the titles either. Both novels are about girls growing up in very impoverished conditions. Both girls are very intelligent, much more so than their peers and their family. Both reach towards moving out of the ‘villages’ where they live. Both are also very similar to Olive Schreiner’s 1883 novel The Story of an African Farm. All three books are wonderful and would make for a truly fascinating course on women in fiction, but it’s been too long since I read Ms. Schreiner or Ms. Franklin for me to really develop a post comparing the three books.
Ms. Ferrante’s is the more complex of the three. Her tale is about two childhood friends Lina and Elena. Elena lives in the shadow of her brilliant friend, Lina, who is smarter, more charismatic, prettier, more popular with the boys than Elena. Her teachers expect her to go very far, but her father will not pay for any schooling beyond elementary. However, Lina’s father will. So she continues through middle and then high school while Lina helps her on the sly. This contrast makes the book similar to The Story of an African Farm but Ms. Ferrante’s books goes into much deeper psychological territory.
Lina struggles to overcome her family’s poverty through education, but she is continually haunted by her smarter doppelganger, Elena. She always feels that her success is really Elena’s, that she would never achieve much of anything without her friends help. Even in high school, Elena gets the books Lina should be studying from the small town library and learns the material before Lina can. A couple of times I began to wonder if the story was going to end up a psychological thriller.
Instead it’s a very detailed, very character driven novel of everyday life in 1950’s Italy. It’s realistic like 1940’s Italian Neorealist films were. I kept thinking of The Bicycle Thief and Rocco and His Brothers while reading My Brilliant Friend. Which brings me to my second point.
Since learning that this book is part of a four book series I think it can be compared to the other four-part series currently big in bookstores, Karl Ove Knausgård‘s My Struggle which I started a couple of month’s ago. Mr. Knausgard is a highly detailed, character driven series about the life on one boy, probably the author. It’s also excellent, but I found it fairly easy to put down. (I’ve yet to go back to it.) Ms. Ferrante’s book is not easy to put down. Like I said above, I’m soon to start book two and will certainly finish the series long before I get through part one of My Struggle.
I’ve forgotten my third point which just goes to show you how important it is to write an outline before you begin your first draft.
There was a time when I’d let a review like this sit for a while so I could come up with a better finish, but I’m in the middle of a really good Roger Zelazny Chronicles of Amber book that I want to get back to so I’m going to let my blog writing suffer a bit in favor of my book reading.
My Brilliant Friend counts as book number eight in the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge.