21 January 2017

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Goodreads | Amazon 
Published: September 2012 
# of Pages: 331 
Source: Library Copy 

A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.

The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

Ferrante is the author of three previous works of critically acclaimed fiction: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. With this novel, the first in a trilogy, she proves herself to be one of Italy’s great storytellers. She has given her readers a masterfully plotted page-turner, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations, that is also a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new readers to her fiction.

Let me start by saying that it took me a while to collect my thoughts about this book. I read it and couldn't even write a complete review on Goodreads until two or three days after my completion date. I will say that I enjoyed this book immensely and there are several points I would like to address mainly in the form of plot, characters, and writing style. This is the first book I completed for my translated works/around the world reading challenge for the year.

Plot: If there is anything the reader should know about the plot is that it is slow. The author takes her time developing each character not only as individuals, but also in relation to each other and that takes time and patience. She doesn't "baby" the reader and guide you through everything or give you resources to remember all the complex Italian names where every character seems the same as other characters. This may seem like a negative aspect or quite daunting; however, it's this concept that makes the book so interesting and rewarding. The writer has faith in the reader. She believes that at some point everything will fall into place and you will understand everything about the story and it's characters. If you can make it through the initial stages of her writing and plot development, I think it becomes easier to invest in the story and the brilliance behind the writing.

Characters: Okay, so for me this was the most dynamic aspect of this entire book. In fact, I think that the character development in this book is more important than the plot itself. After all we are looking at how the two main characters Lila and Elena interact with one another. There is complexity in the character building. No character is easier to understand than others, some don't have an redeeming qualities, and others make stupid decisions; however, it is in this that the characters feel so realistic. You also get the opportunity to feel extremely close to the narrator Elena. Whatever she feels as a character you feel as a reader. When she's jealous of Lila so is the reader. When Elena feels accomplished then the reader does as well. It's not very often that a fictional character can make me feel exactly the way they are feeling as if I was experiencing life in their shoes. Lila; however, was a little more difficult for me to get adjusted to as a character. I didn't understand what she was doing half the time and I think that is because Elena didn't understand what Lila was doing. She was the one character I believed has some questionable characteristics; however, I don't want to pass full judgement on her until I'm able to read the next three novels.

Writing: I loved the writing! I think that in some places it took a bit of an adjustment simply because this was a work that was translated from Italian; however, I loved the way Ferrante tied everything together. If you like translated works I definitely feel like this is a book to check out.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Everything just seemed to flow together and I loved learning about and watching these characters grow and change over time. I think this is a book that one should be patient with. It takes time to completely appreciate everything about the writing, plot, and characters; however, once you're there you are truly invested. I can't wait to dig into the next three books and see exactly where they end up.


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