My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Lila, Gigliona, Alfonso, Nino, Pasquale, Rino, Carmela and Ada are just some of the children of various ages featured in this book. Throw in their parents; Fernando, Nunzia, Alfredo, Giuseppina, Melina, Donato, Silvio, Manuela, Nicola, Assunta and the evil Don Achille and you pretty much have the village. These are the names of the friends and family of Lila and Lenu growing up in a small working class town outside of Naples in the late 1940’s.
Ok I’ll admit I often struggle with too many characters in a book. Call me daft or just plain lazy but I normally top out around 12 wanting to just rip into the story without having to go back and remind myself of who belongs with whom. Somehow with this one however, the extensive cast didn’t cause a problem. In fact, by the end of it I came to know them all very well and am actually tempted to pick up the other two books in this three part series by mysterious Italian author, Elena Ferrante just to read a little more about them. So long as they don’t have kids that is.
I loved this book and the the Italian passion that flew out from every page. This is a town where boys throw rocks at girls and then get into fights in their honour. Fathers bout with their sons, mothers chastise their daughters and scorned lovers throw pots from apartment windows. Dirty laundry is aired on every street corner as the shopkeepers, shoemakers and bakers do what they can to get by.
Pulling this beautiful book together is the friendship of Lenu and Lila who challenge and support each other through adolescence and eventually womanhood. This is Lenu’s story and the certainly the best one I have ever read in terms of reflecting on the co-dependent nature of childhood friends.
Please read this book if you can. I won’t lie and say it is a page turner but it is a literary investment worth making and Elena Ferrante’s language is poetry. She must also be fairly clever to weave a story with 35 plus characters that even lazy old me could get my head around.
And that is just my 2 cents worth.