Day 952: My Brilliant Friend

Cover for My Brilliant FriendI think my reaction to My Brilliant Friend must be affected by all the hype it has received. That is, I put off reading it because I am often disappointed by novels that are wildly popular. Nothing can live up to the hype, and this novel doesn’t either, but it almost does. It is merciless in its clear-eyed look at the relationship between two frenemies.

The novel begins in the present, where Elena Greco looks back at her relationship with Lila Cerullo. Elena and Lila know each other from childhood. They are neighbors in a rough, poor neighborhood on the outskirts of post-war Naples. From the beginning they are wary, competitive friends. Elena admires Lila’s courage and in school grows to admire her fearless intelligence. But, as the second best in class, Elena finds herself competing with Lila and disliking her secondary position.

Both Lila and Elena are encouraged by their teacher, Maestra Oliviero, but when Lila’s parents won’t allow her to take the exam to enter the equivalent of middle school (I guess) because she has to work, Maestra Oliviero spurns Lila. She continues to study on her own for a while, even helping Elena with her Latin, but eventually, as she gets older, she avoids discussing Elena’s studies as it is too painful. Elena for her part finds herself increasingly isolated from most of her community, because there is no one with whom she can discuss the ideas she is interested in. Only Lila is capable of understanding them, and she begins avoiding these subjects.

Something else Lila and Elena would like to avoid are the Solara brothers, whose father is part of the Camorra crime syndicate. When Elena is a young teenager, the boys attempt to drag her into their car, but Lila stops them by pulling a knife. This action apparently endears her to Marcello Solara, who begins hanging around Lila’s house with the cooperation of her parents.

I can only guess that the effect of this series builds as the reader continues on with it. Certainly, the novel has a climactic ending that makes me wonder what’s coming next.

I felt that the emotions Elena expressed during the novel were immature, but then I had to keep reminding myself that the girls are only 16 at the end of the novel. Elena seems to be totally oblivious of how painful it must be for Lila to hear about her intellectual achievements, and Elena still continues to try to compete with her. Although Lila seems abrupt and dismissive at times, at other times she lets Elena know how she appreciates her.

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10 thoughts on “Day 952: My Brilliant Friend

  1. The Paperback Princess August 12, 2016 / 12:19 pm

    I felt much the same reading this. I’m really conflicted about whether or not to continue with the series. There are so many people that are completely devoted to this series and Ferrante and I wonder what it is that I’m missing? That ending…it did make me want to keep going but the reading experience was such hard work that I wasn’t keen to keep going…
    Still undecided!

    • whatmeread August 12, 2016 / 1:11 pm

      I think I didn’t really like the main character very much. That was probably my problem. I felt that she showed very little understanding of her friend and was too competitive towards her. Anyway, I feel the same, wonder what I’m missing and whether I should continue.

  2. Cecilia August 12, 2016 / 9:08 pm

    Interesting to get your take on it. I bought the entire series at once and started it but didn’t finish (not really because of the book but more my lack of attention span). Yours is the first less-than-enthusiastic review I’ve read of it, but hopefully knowing this side I can adjust my expectations, and come out happy 😉

    • whatmeread August 13, 2016 / 6:27 pm

      From the comments I got, I think a few people thought as I did.

  3. Carolyn O August 12, 2016 / 10:18 pm

    I’m sorry it didn’t live up to the hype for you :/ But I liked the narrator’s unlikeability, her difficult qualities.

    • whatmeread August 13, 2016 / 6:29 pm

      Well, that’s what I didn’t enjoy as much, although it gives her more depth.

  4. Claire 'Word by Word' August 13, 2016 / 5:28 am

    It seems we’ve reached the tipping point, where the expectations from this set of novels has risen higher than what it can deliver. I read it a couple of years ago and found it original and compelling and was excited to be reading a story translated from Italian, coming from a part of it we know little about, so it’s more than just story telling, it’s a glimpse into another culture and its social pressures and the difficulty of leaving that behind. That exploration continues in the subsequent series and although it waned a little for me by the end of book three, I’m going to be reading of Elena Ferrante for sure.

    • whatmeread August 13, 2016 / 6:30 pm

      That certainly is something it has going for it.

  5. julietbailey980 August 13, 2016 / 3:35 pm

    It was really interesting to read your review. I did start reading this book but gave up on it as I just didn’t feel engaged with the characters. I think you’re right about the hype surrounding certain books – I do wonder whether my expectations were set too high because so many people had raved about it.

  6. Binny August 17, 2016 / 7:04 am

    The danger of over hyped books is that they almost always fail to meet expectations – and I am sorry to see that this one fell short for you. I read the whole series a few months ago and loved them, even rooted for Ferrante to win the Booker. But I get how it has fallen short for you, it happens to me a lot 🙂

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