My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante


Five stars, read in October 2016.

Gorgeous. Such a fascinating relationship between the protagonist—smart, insightful, but noticeably young—and Lila—who’s more like a force of nature than anything else. I love how not pretty the book is, how it’s about the violence and smallness of life. The dynamics of Elena Greco’s neighborhood act out the tension, the constant struggle of trying to be anything more than the animal-ness that is the base of humanity.

“You still waste time with those things, Lenu? We are flying over a ball of fire. The part that has cooled floats on the lava. On that part we construct the buildings, the bridges, and the streets, and every so often the lava comes out of Vesuvius or causes an earthquake that destroys everything. There are microbes everywhere that make us sick and die. There are wars. There is a poverty that makes us all cruel. Every second something might happen that will cause you such suffering that you’ll never have enough tears. And what are you doing? A theology course in which you struggle to understand what the Holy Spirit is? Forget it, it was the Devil who invented the world, not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

I checked out book two as soon as I finished this one because I really felt that I wanted to read it, but I ended up not getting to it—probably not the book’s fault, but a casualty of many reading slumps I went through last year.

It’s now been a few months since I read it, and in looking back I realize that I’m feeling a little apprehensive about picking the series up again. Toward the end of the first book there was such a sense of . . . desperation, maybe? and it feels like there’s no way things can go happily in the lives of these two girls. I’m preparing myself for the kind of emotional pain that is especially frustrating to me because it’s totally unnecessary, caused by repressive societies that insist on holding people down and forcing them into molds they don’t fit.

If you’re interested, The Paris Review did an interview with Ferrante in 2015. I wrote here about the parts I particularly liked.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Jan Hicks says:

    Interesting. I struggled with this. I had high expectations and found it a flat read.


    1. Gwen says:

      You know, I loved it while I was reading it, but when I look back now I think “flat” is actually the perfect word for my feelings about it—I have to read my own review to remind myself why I liked it. I can’t tell if this is anything to do with the book or just me being weird, because I’m very much a gut- and mood-reader, and sometimes my feelings change without my knowing why. I wanted to read the second book immediately when I finished, but now I can easily see myself never finishing the trilogy, and I don’t know yet which way I’ll go.


      1. Jan Hicks says:

        I forgot about the characters almost immediately after I finished it, which is rare for me. I don’t know why, but it didn’t engage me at all. It felt like other family sagas but also like a pastiche of family sagas.


      2. Gwen says:

        That is interesting. I’m all over the place about it, apparently—now that we’re discussing it, I want to read the second book and see how I like it. I read the first one as part of a readathon (my first ever), so I wonder if the circumstances influenced it.


      3. Jan Hicks says:

        I think you should. I know a few people who really like the series, so there must be something in them. I just don’t get it.


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