REVIEW: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante | TV adaptation to come.

by |April 6, 2017

John Purcell’s review

Why do I put off reading books which come with a great many excellent recommendations? Is it some residue from my adolescent self, standing firm against the coercion of the group?

Probably something as stupid as that.

Well, I’m glad I overcame that foolishness when it came to picking up this much lauded, discussed and recommended novel, which is the first in a series of novels by that strangely secretive author.

My Brilliant Friend doesn’t grab you by the throat and demand to be read. It is far too self-possessed for that. This is a story told with quiet precision, a story which unfolds effortlessly, placing you firmly in the setting, the outskirts of Naples, introducing you to two very different little girls who become friends before your eyes. Surrounding them is cast of fully realised characters, with backstories and heartbeats, who continue to live richly even when not directly part of the narrative, their stories continuing offstage, as it were.

There is something uniquely compelling about this cool approach. This is a story which seems to declare – I don’t need you, dear reader, to exist.

(By the way, I call balderdash on those who claim that these books are better suited to a female audience).

Caroline Baum’s Review

I had some catching up to do on the rest of the world. It took me until book three in the quartet, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, to become gripped by the relationship at the centre of these novels but once I surrendered, that was it. I think I forgot to breathe while reading Part Four, The Story of the Lost Child. It was so tough and gritty, so fierce and ruthless in its brutal psychological honesty about the dynamics between two flawed women of great strength whose fates are intertwined by forces that are almost mythic.

By the time we reach the final volume, Lila and Elena argue about politics, family, community, friendship with an almost savage intensity. Raw power tears across every page. Tragedy, menace, revenge and grief haunt the final chapters of this epic literary achievement. It richly repays the time invested, building to a crescendo from which the reader, when released, may feel a little bereft.

My Brilliant Friendby Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (Translator)

My Brilliant Friend

The Neapolitan Novels : Book 1

by Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (Translator)

My Brilliant Friend is a ravishing, wonderfully written novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime.

The story of Elena and Lila begins in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. The two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, sometimes to their own detriment, as each discovers more about who she is and suffers or delights in the throes of their intense friendship.

There is a piercing honesty about Ferrante's prose that makes My Brilliant Friend a compulsively readable...

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, was published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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