February Book Club: My Brilliant Friend
Our book club choice for February is Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. The story follows the young lives of two best friends, Elena and Lila, growing up in post-war Naples. A reflection of friendship against the backdrop of societal unrest and poverty, it is a look at both a very poignant moment in history and in the lives of teenage women. It has become a literary sensation, as well as a mini-series on HBO, since its publication in 2011, so I was eager to try it!
The story starts when Elena and Lila are young girls playing with dolls, and ends with Lila’s wedding. We see them grow from nervous schoolgirls to angst-filled teenagers, to young women skilfully trying to manoeuvre themselves in a society largely uninterested in the wishes of economically disadvantaged women. Ferrante brilliantly captures the minutiae of female friendship and the push and pull of both jealousy and celebration that accompanies teenage bonds. Their society is full of violence and uncertainty, but leaning on one another is what allows them to feel safe and valued.
“Not for you,” Lila replies ardently, “you’re my brilliant friend, you have to be the best of all, boys and girls.”
I did find the start of the novel somewhat heavy-going, as many characters are introduced with little to no explanation. The character list at the start of the novel will be something you often turn back to! The story also starts slow and meandering, with simple musings on the childish games and wishes of Elena and Lila. However a lot of the slow moments in the beginning of the novel are revealed to inspire later events, forming connections you don’t immediately spot as a reader.
“Her quickness of mind was like a hiss, a dart, a lethal bite.”
For people who need an arresting plot right from the start, it’s worth the wait until the mid-point of the book where the stakes get higher. The book has a lot of violence, which surprised me, but was evidently a big part of the impoverished Naples communities. It’s also refreshing to see such a deep reflection on female friendship with no romanticising or stereotyping, it is portrayed with a realistic complexity.
This is definitely a unique book, and one I would recommend to those who enjoy historical books or fans of bildungsromans. It has definitely stayed in my mind since finishing it, and I look forward to starting the next book in the Naples quartet.
We loved reading this novel this month and are so excited to discuss it with you- please tell us what you thought via social media or by commenting on this post!