The story of Elena and Lila begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples (Italy, not Florida). Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, as their friendship, beautifully and meticulously rendered, becomes a not always perfect shelter from hardship. Ferrante has created a memorable portrait of two women, but My Brilliant Friend is also the story of a nation. Through the lives of Elena and Lila, Ferrante gives her readers the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country undergoing momentous change.
I gave this book a 2.5/4. So there were obviously some things that I liked about it. I'll give you my pluses and minuses:
1. Educational competition among young elementary school kids was interesting.
2. Her writing is good - "...while she was skinny, like an anchovy, she gave off an odor of wildness..."
3. I actually referred to the family trees on a regular basis.
4. More good writing - "And my skin, too, was spoiled: on my forehead, my chin, and around my jaws, archipelagos of reddish swellings multiplied, then turned purple, finally developed yellowish tips." We've all been there.
5. I do think she did a good job of making us understand what went on in a neighborhood like theirs.
1. See #3 above. There were so many characters that I had to repeatedly refer to the family trees. I finally gave up. I had learned many/most of them. But I just couldn't get them all. Could it be me? Possibly.
2. My entire emotional connection to any of the characters was one raised eyebrow. I kid you not.
3. I was constantly confused by the ages of the girls. I guess there was a somewhat natural progression, but I couldn't always follow it. They seemed to go back and forth on a fairly willy-nilly basis. Again, it could be me.
4. The quote on the cover of the book should have been my warning sign: My Brilliant Friend is a large, captivating, amiably peopled bildungsroman." - James Wood, The New Yorker. Do you know what a bildungsroman is without looking it up? Is this supposed to make us want to snatch up this book? My vocabulary is okay, but I sure as heck don't know this word.
P.S. Amazon's rating is 3.9/5. And Goodreads is 3.88/5. It doesn't get much more consistent than that. My 2.5/4 is the equivalent of 3.125/5. I'm obviously well below the average. As you may have predicted, I'm okay with that.
I couldn't actually find a picture of the author. Go figure.