"I believe that books, once written, have no need of their authors." So said Elena Ferrante, anonymous creator of what has been termed ‘a modern masterpiece’. My Brilliant Friend is about two friends, Elena and Lila who grow up in a village in Naples, Italy. They’re poor, it’s 1950 and these children are rough, tough, resourceful and fierce.
There are too many characters in chapter one. My head was reeling, and I had to keep checking back. It’s a small town, and we meet the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. We see historical events unfolding as the children grow up, and are sucked in to the tiny details of their lives, which are described such matter of factness that we forget to be impressed with the violence, the dire need and the desperation. Lenù (Elena) and Lila are centre stage and we feel every emotion, the dust on their feet and the frustration in their very souls.
A quiet book, but strong, intense and ultimately powerful. Apparently (it all goes a little over my naive head), Ferrante doesn't follow any writing rules. She writes and does whatever she likes. She doesn’t give author interviews, promote the book, isn't on social media and (until she was outed last year) has remained relatively anonymous. And the irony in that is, apparently the series (the Neapolitan Novels) is such a runaway success, that my brother-in-law, who bought this for me for Christmas had to hunt it down - it was sold out in all major book stores where I live.
This is an author and a book that doesn't really care what you think of it. I like it more for that. I will be hunting down the other four novels, especially since it has been put on the stage and #4 was short listed for the Booker Prize in 2016.
Highly recommended. Thoroughly enjoyed.
You may also enjoy The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, or Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.