What is friendship? Between challenges, conflicts, and intensity, as we discover Lenu, Lila, and the other members of their little neighborhood in Naples, this word takes a whole new meaning. Here is my review of the first book from The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend.
Okay, so I'll be honest on this one. As I'm starting to write this review my ideas are not completely set up yet. It took me a while to read My Brilliant Friend because it confused me so much. First, I thought that I would hate this book, or worse, that I would not finish it but it revealed itself to be particularly interesting and ... intense. Typically the kind of stories that, without any sort of explanations, ends up leaving a mark inside of you.
The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. We follow the adventures of the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, as they become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex yet at times conflictual friendship.
Release : October 19th, 2011 | VO : L'amica Geniale (Italian)
Pages : 430 | Genre : Historical Fiction
As we dive into the story, we learn about the strong yet very conflicted relationship between Lenú and Lila. Clue of the unspoken love between the two, neither ever really feel challenged when it's not with the other. Their path repeatedly converging and diverging, we observe the two characters growing into clever, independent but mostly intense women.
"I told myself that nobody understood us and that only we could understand each other." — Elena
At first, I was very confused by this book. I didn't know what I was reading or even why I was reading it. But I quickly fell in the love with the characters, the energy in their relationship, and the deep connection between them.
I love books that bring up, one way or another, the idea of a learning process. Top-A primary school students when we meet them, we follow the adventures of Lila and Lenú as they go through changes in their bodies, in their minds, and in their hearts. Just like the characters, we get to think and wonder about communism, fascism, poverty, and love.
"She was like that, she broke the balance just to see how else she could recompose them." — Elena
I absolutely loved reading this book, just as much as I have loved reading L'élégance du Hérisson (The elegance of the Hedgehog) by Muriel Barbery.
Book One .... out of Four
60 years of a relationship explained in books, my Brilliant Friend is the first book of a 4-part series called The Neapolitans Novels, which I intend to read.
Oh, and the last thing ... I don't have much information about it yet but I just read that this saga would soon be adapted in an HBO tv show. HBO + Great story? I'M SO IN.
Should you read My Brilliant Friend?
If I wouldn't necessarily suggest The Neapolitan Novels to everyone, I think you should read this book if :
- You are into strong but conflicted characters,
- You like intense stories,
- You like independent and clever women icons,
- You like reality-like stories,
- You like confusing and intriguing stories,
- You like Italy or would like to learn more about its culture and language.
Reading soundtrack 🎧
Do you ever read with music? I know some people can't focus while hearing anything while others absolutely cannot imagine their reading without an appropriate musical background. I am personally of the latter kind (well, I can do both actually 🤷🏾♂️). I find that, when appropriate, music adds so much depth to an already intense book. With my glasses, my book, and my headphones on I really feel out of this world (and I'm not even exaggerating).
Anyway, during this journey with Lila and Lenú in My Brillant Friend, I was accompanied by the delightful and just as much intense album 'Una Mattina' by Ludovico Einaudi. I highly suggest you listen to it, especially to the song 'Nuvole Bianche' which was always on replay for me. Spoiler alert: I'm still listening to it while writing this.
Fun fact: Ludovico Einaudi is italian so he was the perfect match for my italian story!
What about you, do you think music and books get along? If so, do you have a particular reading soundtrack to recommend?
Have you read My Brilliant Friend or are planning to read it? I would love to chat about it with you in the comments!