When I first stumbled across a mention of Italian author Elena Ferrante, I wondered what she had written to be crowned one of Italy's most renowned novelists.
I heartily agreed with an article in "The
Economist", which called her "the best contemporary novelist you've
never heard of."
Her series of Neapolitan Novels begins with My
Brilliant Friend, the first in the multi-volume set. I was intrigued
as I have a deep love for Italy and its people. And, at the risk of sounding shallow, I liked the cover art.
some reason, I have been ensnared by multi-volume novels of late (such
as Outlander and Poldark) so I decided to flip a coin. After all,
unlike the other two series, this one only has four books.
Set in the
1950's near Naples, Italy, Ferrante tells the story of two young girls,
Lila and Elena. Translated from the original Italian, it was not an
easy book to read. Even the best of translators cannot precisely
duplicate the lilt and flow of the author's language. My grammatical
background did battle with the occasional run-on or incomplete
sentence. I had to force myself to chalk it up to artistic license.
story is deeply personal, often violent, and I felt that Ferrante's
goal was to reach through the page and slap me, reminding me that this
was her story to tell, not necessarily one that I would love to hear.
As I moved through the first hundred pages, I was irritated by the
ever-shifting friendship of these girls as they matured. Yet I was
drawn back, wanting to know how they could possibly remain friends The
author captures the insecurities of girlhood in a male-dominated culture surrounded by grinding
poverty with the honesty of first-hand
Though I fought valiantly to dislike this book, the
characters repeatedly sucked me back in with their raw, honest descriptiveness. I knew
I could walk down any poor street in Naples and run into each and every
one of them. Damn it, now I'm going to have to buy book two, The Story of a New Name.