My Brilliant Friend: A Book Review

My Brilliant Friend is the first book in the Neapolitan Novels, and it was translated from Italian into English by Ann Goldstein. In this book, the author, Elena Ferrante, narrated the childhood and adolescence of two girls in Elena Greco’s (Lenù)’s first-person view. The two girls are Raffaella Carullo (Elena calls her Lila) and Elena Greco (Lila calls her Lenù).

Lila was a natural; she thought of things in a very different way from all the others. She could study with extremely good efficiency, and she was creative and brave. In comparison, Lenù wasn’t that talented. She studied very hard, but she found out that, despite her efforts, success came much more easily for Lila. These two girls grew up together; sometimes they hated each other, but sometimes they loved each other. The book shows us their growth, the chaotic world they lived in, and the struggles in people’s hearts. Here are three things I loved most about the book.

Elena Ferrante portrayed all the characters so well! 

In some books, a character may remain the same. However, in this book, everyone’s personalities kept changing as they were growing up. For example, Lila was portrayed as a very independent person when she was a child. She didn’t love anyone other than her family members, and she didn’t want to love anyone else. Contrary to Lila, Lenù needed companions. She had a good relationship with many other girls, and she adored Nino Sarratore when she was in primary school. Of the two girls, Lenù was more likely to get married sooner than Lila, since Lila didn’t need or want a boyfriend, let alone a husband. However, Lila found herself afflicted with troubles when she was 16. Her brother, who used to be kind, began to have many angry outbursts which were totally unprovoked. A man Lila hated followed her for months, even though she had refused him, but he used his money to convince her family members to let him marry her. Lila was upset and felt powerless. Suddenly, another man burst into her life who solved all her problems. Lila was willing to marry him and ended up getting married much earlier than Lenù. The fact that Lila got married at such a young age was surprising, but it was also reasonable based on the plot. In this story, nobody was a purely bad guy or a purely good guy. Each character had secret thoughts, and each wanted to embrace every advantage. These character depictions made the stories more convincing. If you told me this story was actually real, I would believe you. That is how convincingly the characters were described in the story.

Lila was extremely memorable!

Elena Ferrante really succeeded in creating a charming and memorable character! Lila was not only influential to Lenù, but also to the readers (at least to me). In the few hours after I finished reading this book, I couldn’t keep myself from thinking of Lila. During my day I would think, “What would Lila do if she were me?” That was really a strange feeling, but I understood how meaningful it was for Lenù to be connected to Lila. Lila was so different from all of us. She wasn’t afraid of making decisions and was the symbol of bravery. For example, in the book we read, “The car stopped. Marcello’s fingers around my wrist made my skin turn cold, and I pulled my arm away in disgust. The bracelet broke, falling between the sidewalk and the car. He was smiling, friendly, he tried again to take my wrist as if to establish a familiarity that would soothe me. It was an instant. Lila, half the size of him, pushed him against the car and whipped the shoemaker’s knife under his throat. She said calmly, in dialect, ‘Touch her again and I’ll show you what happens.’ ” Michele came around the car, and I began to cry. From where I was I could see that the point of the knife had already cut Marcello’s skin, a scratch from which came a tiny thread of blood.” Lila was also the symbol of beauty and wisdom and as a result, many people began to worship her instinctively. She could evoke people’s strong emotions so that it was incredibly hard to forget her.

The plot was strong! 

Elena Ferrante exposed the lives, the struggles, and the chaos of these characters. She described how fragile their lives were. For instance, “We lived in a world in which children and adults were often wounded, blood flowed from the wounds, they festered, and sometimes people died. Our world was like that, full of words that killed: croup, tetanus, typhus, gas, war, lathe, rubble, work, bombardment, bomb, tuberculosis, infection.” Even women fought each other. Such was the struggle between Lidia Sarratore and Melina. They both fell in love with Donato Sarratore, who is Lidia’s husband. The other battles couldn’t be seen on the surface, like the race between Lila and Lenù, and the combat between Lila and her husband Stefano. Carracci’s sister Maria Carracci believed that Lila married her brother just because of his money. She hated Lila and Lila didn’t like her at all either. The males, too, were always fighting and irascible. Fighting with the other males was a normal occurrence in their lives, and they didn’t think their wives were anyone important.

“I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence. Every sort of thing happened, at home and outside, every day, but I don’t recall having ever thought that the life we had there was particularly bad. Life was like that, that’s all, we grew up with the duty to make it difficult for others before they made it difficult for us.”

In conclusion, reading My Brilliant Friend can teach you not only about the unique and interesting lives that some people lead, but also about their inner thoughts and feelings, which can be very thought-provoking. I really recommend this book!