A world you don’t want to leave

  • Book: My Brilliant Friend
  • Location: Naples
  • Author: Elena Ferrante

Review Author: Europa

Location

Content

On the surface, this is a coming-of-age novel set in the late 1950s in a poor, violent suburb of Naples. Yet it has depths of love, beauty, politics, social observation, spite, generosity and anger all rendered in sparkling prose.

The reader is immersed in this Southern Italian environment, narrated by Elena Greco, whose entire story of her growth and development into her late teens is refracted through the lens of comparison. Lila Cerullo is a wild, stubborn, intelligent, spiteful and completely hypnotic eight-year-old. Elena is drawn to this bright flame, despite her fears. The two support and compete, discuss and fantasise, gossip and observe their world as best friends. Small gestures of cruelty are followed by selfless acts of love, constantly testing one another and keeping score.

Ferrante’s cast of characters is broad and its hierarchy rigid. Brutal threats between neighbours, families, lovers are rarely idle and an undercurrent of honour, vengeance and blood runs just below the surface.

Passions and dramas abound on the small stage of their little community, set against a greater backdrop of the recent war, political extremism and the importance of having the right connections.

Ferrante is an extraordinary writer, able to observe the smallest details in grains of sand, then rush you through a scene such as the fireworks on New Year’s Eve so you feel exhilarated and unnerved. It’s a world you don’t want to leave.

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