Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Elena Ferrante - My Brilliant Friend

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. 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 two protagonists. 

Comment: I got this book at a book fair not because it was quite hyped but mostly because my best friend - who doesn't read as intensely as I do - have read it and recommended it to me.
I've also noticed the author has been quite the sensation, due to the fact the books are intriguing I suppose, but mainly because we don't know who she (he?) is besides some basic information which doesn't include her real name.

This is the first of four installments depicting the life of two friends since the 50s until the present, since they were little girls in the same Naples neighborhood until they are old women.
The story is told in the first person by Elena or Lenú and she explains how life used to be and how it evolved as she and best friend Lila grew up. From the simplest of things to the most complex feelings and decisions, the two of them have done pretty much everything together, have tried to stay in touch and always kept an eye on the each other's progresses and wins.
However, life has different paths for them and Lenu decides to share what has happened to the two of them in a story that is both fascinating and simple in how friendship is portrayed.

I can see why this book and this author have conquered many readers. The writing is simple, even the metaphors and other technical details seemed to have been inserted in the story seamlessly which turned the story into something we could be listening to orally but that reading isn't boring nor too heavy. Lenú as a narrator has a clear voice, she doesn't hide from personal comments on what she's relating but at the same time we can still be aware of how detached she is from certain things, so the separation between Lenú narrator and Lenú character feels balanced.

The story is simple and structurally is divided into two parts: a smaller part where we get to know the girls as children and what they were facing and then as teenagers while the new challenges got to be so dire as they look before we feel confident enough or mature enough to deal with them properly.
The childhood part does feel a bit repetitive and I struggled to identify with the characters, and not because they lived in a poor neighborhood in Naples, a city known by not being the most polished of the Italian cities but where the consequences of the war and how people were rebuilding their lives was subtly interwoven into the narrative of Lenú.
I suppose this is a positive aspect of the story, how reality notions are mixed with the fictional parts.

The "meatier" part, let's call it that, is the teenager years and how these are portrayed. Lenú and Lila are described as being the best of friends, always close to one another somehow and both sharing common things despite their personalities making them go through life in slightly different ways.
Lila seems more extrovert, more courageous and despite being very clever she acts as if it doesn't matter what others think of her. Lenú is more aware of her actions, quieter and more analytical of her surroundings but, interestingly, both are smart girls and we obviously get the clear notion Lila could go very far had she had the opportunity to keep studying.

In this, I'd say, lies the biggest appeal of the novel. Lila and Lenú are friends but they are also jealous of one another, they are always thinking about little ways to overcome the other somehow. Lila is clearly smarter intellectually but her family doesn't allow her the same opportunities and Lenú has to study more to reach the same level but she isn't as outspoken and feels jealous of the way Lila is seen by others.
This is interesting indeed because I think we all must have felt like this about our peers or friends in school. To blend in while standing out at the same time. To be a pal but to be slightly better. I could see my own teenager years in both Lila and Lenú's attitudes and that is the evocation, I suppose, many people comment on feeling abut this story.

However, in global terms, I wasn't as dazzled by this. The little details, the different content seems intriguing but as a whole I wasn't always impressed and I actually thought the goal was to show how character Lenú would put herself above the petty feelings somehow, while trying to stay true to her roots. This didn't happen and I got irritated by how obvious some of her attitudes also were.
I got the feeling the characters' actions had the purpose of intending more serious or specific outcomes in relation to what would happen but it's as if the tension rises and rises and then the result is more debating, more situations that could have happened very differently.

All this considered, I don't feel an immediate eagerness to read the other installments right now. But if I find them at my local library I'll definitely try them sometime later.
Grade: 6/10

No comments:

Post a Comment