Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante - Not That Brilliant!

I know that My Brilliant Friend is a highly thought of book/series.  This one is book 1 of 4.  I can categorically say that book 1 is "one and done," as they say in the sports world.  It wasn't bad.  I was able to get through it pretty easily, with only a couple of "Do I finish it or do I Goldfinch it?" moments.  But am I going to read any more?  As a tennis buddy of mine used to say when the opponent's shot was just out, "Eh, eh."  Here's the inside flap summary:

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.
5.  Next!

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.


  1. I've heard so much gushing about this series, so I finally got book one from the library (after waiting forever), and after just a few pages, I dropped it. Didn't like it at all.

    1. Interesting. I also had seen a bunch of positive reviews. And I had the book in my TBR pile because of it. What finally pushed me to read it is that my Los Gatos Library Book Club picked it for July. I'm looking forward to seeing if the other members sided with the majority of reviewers, or if they agreed with me.

    2. I thought I was the only one! A friend of mine said a group of her friends were reading the series, and they were dying for each new book! So I got the ebook. I couldn't finish it. Then it arrived in the library as an audiobook. So I gave it another try. I managed to finish it, because honestly, nothing is really too terrible to listen to when you're washing dishes or cleaning or cooking. But I have no intention of reading the others. As you've told me before, Lloyd, I just couldn't find anything to bond me to these characters. There was nothing that made me want to read more about them. Although you're right, the writing is pretty marvelous, and you really get a feel for what life was like in the neighborhood. But listen to more? No, not even while I'm cooking, cleaning, or washing dishes!

    3. I've had a couple of other comments on my Book Sage FB page that agree with us. Strength in numbers!

  2. I've been dying to read this because I've heard such great things about it. Now, I've lowered my expectations and I thank you for that.

    1. Lots of people really liked this book as well as the 3 sequels. It could just be me and a couple of others who are "okay-ing" it. I respectfully respect those who liked it a lot. It's our book club selection for the local library. Next Tuesday night I'll find out if I'm in the maj- or min-ority.