I absolutely loved Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. I devoured it in a few days and I am urgently trying to get my hands on the other 3 books of the Neapolitan series (which has become very popular as of late).
The book is not your ordinary coming of age story. It centers on an extremely complicated best friend relationship between two girls set in a poverty stricken neighborhood in Naples. The story is told from the perspective of one of the girls named Lenu. Lenu is self-conscious, meek, and intelligent. She spends her entire childhood trying to escape the iron grip of fate, a fate paved by intergenerational poverty and her violent neighborhood. Her mother who is lame and cross-eyed exemplifies everything she never wants to be. Her best-friend, Lila, is everything she hopelessly aspires to be. Lila is fierce, unapologetic, and gifted with innumerable talents. She is book smart, street smart and has an astonishing prescience about human nature. The girls have philosophical conversations, grapple with grave issues and react to and experience their lives in ways that often make one forget they are merely 14 to 16 years old.
Despite the perceived imbalance of ability, it is Lenu that marches ahead and continues her education with distinction and it is Lila who stays behind. But regardless of all her academic successes Lenu wallows in a pit of inadequacy and failure. The ruthless competition and simmering jealousy between the two takes a psychological toll on Lenu. I had a conversation with my cousin about this who did not enjoy the book due to Lenu’s “destructive obsession” with Lila. My cousin just couldn’t understand how this could constitute a friendship let alone a healthy one. I disagree slightly. Both Lenu and Lila need each other, push each other to rise above their grim circumstances. They inspire and motivate one another, even if in disturbing ways. And can we deny that many close female friendships have this element of jealousy? It is not a spiteful jealousy but one that ultimately makes the girls want for each other what they want for themselves; to break free..
Needless to say I gave this 5 stars. I cannot wait to unravel more intricate layers of their friendship as it develops into adulthood. Stay tuned for more posts on that!