December 21, 2013 - why, yes, that's when Rhody aunt wrote recommending author Elena Ferrante. She had just finished My Brilliant Friend, which she "adored" and recommended to our family's female readers. She was off to check out the rest of the books in the series as well as Ferrante's previous books, including Days of Abandonment. I made a note of the recommendation because she recommended it and because it definitely sounded like a book I'd enjoy. And then I forgot about it, so much so that even when it seemed like every blogger was talking about the Neapolitan novels, I didn't recall the recommendation at all. Until, thanks to 40 Bags In 40 Days, I was cleaning out my email account and found the recommendation and decided it was time to read Ferrante.
My Brilliant Friend (Neopolitan Novels #1) by Elena Ferrante
Published September 2012 by Europa
Source: bought it for book club
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.
Okay, let me just say up front that some people may tell you that this book could be read as a stand alone book. Don't listen to them. Yes, there is something of an ending to this book. But it's also clear that it's merely the end of a chapter in the lives of Lenu and Lila and that things are going to get very interesting in the next novel.
Also, this book series has possibly got the worst covers. They are one of the reasons I didn't pick up these books sooner. Because, it turns out, I do judge books by their covers, no matter how many people recommend the book, apparently.
As it turns out, I should have listened to my aunt three years ago.
I liked this book. A lot. Ferrante makes the neighborhood come alive - the relationships between its denizens, the violence of their lives - but she also makes readers feel the insularity of the neighborhood. It's easy to forget the characters live in Naples and not a small village.
"I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence. Every sort of thing happened, at home and outside, every day, but I don't recall having ever thought that the life we had there was particularly bad. Life was like that, that's all, we grew up with the duty to make it difficult for others before they made it difficult for us...The women fought among themselves more than the men, they pulled each other's hair, they hurt each other. To cause pain was a disease."I loved the relationship between Elena and Lila. Elena, who's telling us her story, struggles with her relationship with Lila. There is so much about Lila that Elena admires but often to the point that she becomes jealous of it. It's sometimes hard to tell if the girls are even still friends.
"I felt grieved at the waste, because I was compelled to go away, because she preferred the adventure of the shoes to our conversation, because she knew how to be autonomous whereas I needed her, because she had her things that I couldn't be a part of...because, in short, she would feel that I was less and less necessary."We know from the beginning, as Elena looks back on their relationship, that it will remain rocky. Yet, the two seem to have a bond that cannot be broken. I can't wait to read the next book to see what life has in two for these girls and how their relationship will continue to influence their lives.