My friendship with Lila began the day we decided to go up the dark stairs that led, step after step, flight after flight, to the door of Don Achille's apartment...
I waited to see if Lila would have second thoughts and turn back. I knew what she wanted to do; I had hoped that she would forget about it, but in vain.
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 portrait of two young women, and also the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country.
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.
Review by John Purcell
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).
About the Authors
Elena Ferrante was born in Naples. She is the author of seven novels: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, The Lost Daughter, and the quartet of Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. She is one of Italy's most acclaimed authors.
Ann Goldstein is an editor at the New Yorker and a recipient of the PEN Renato Poggioli Translation Award.