This book was recommended to me by a couple of people, and so I decided to give it a go. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is a Heather’s Pick here in Canada (which means something only if you’re Canadian), and is critically acclaimed. The author herself is surrounded by mystery. Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym. No one knows who she is, and she doesn’t do in-person interviews.
A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.
The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. 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, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.
I’m going to be one of the few people on the planet who says this about this book, but I did not like it, and I will not be reading the others in this series. I started reading this book with high expectations and hopes because so many people I know loved it. But by the time I was halfway through I just wanted it to end. I found Elena (the character) to be obsessed with her “best friend” Lila in a completely unhealthy way. She had no sense of self outside of Lila, no identity, no thoughts. Everything revolved around Lila. Lila was essentially a jerk as a kid – she’s mean to everyone, and considers herself always right. These two compete against each other about everything. I just didn’t feel like their friendship was healthy at all. It was toxic. They brought out the worst in each other and it was completely fuelled by jealously.
Most of the other characters were cookie cut outs of each other. It was hard to keep all of the girls and boys who were Elena and Lila’s age separate in my head because they were just so damn similar.
The only thing that stood out to me as interesting in this book was how commonplace violence was. Husbands beat their wives and children. Mothers beat their children. Children beat up other children. Young men beat up other young men. Young men also grab women off the street and have their way with them. And everyone considered this normal. That was just how it was. The author describes this kind of violence in a very casual way. And I think that because it seemed so casual that it struck a chord with me. However, like I said, this is the only thing that I found interesting about this book.
I know that my opinion of this book is in the minority. So if you’ve read this book what did you like about it? And if you’re in the minority like me what about it did you not like?