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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars best book I've read this year
My Brilliant Friend is about the close friendship, rivalry and mutual influence of two young girls living in a poor district of Naples. Elena, our narrator, is hard-working and clever, and wants to fit in. Lina is fierce and driven. She is perhaps even cleverer and more attractive than Elena, but her tendency to fight for everything means that her path is less...
Published 14 months ago by chickpea

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good but not very good
some episodes of brilliance which kept me going. A good portrait of the ups and downs of a longstanding childhood friendship and the angst of teenagerhood set in a poor Neapolitan neighbourhood.
Published 3 months ago by oxo


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars best book I've read this year, 28 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: My Brilliant Friend (Paperback)
My Brilliant Friend is about the close friendship, rivalry and mutual influence of two young girls living in a poor district of Naples. Elena, our narrator, is hard-working and clever, and wants to fit in. Lina is fierce and driven. She is perhaps even cleverer and more attractive than Elena, but her tendency to fight for everything means that her path is less smooth.

This was a wonderful book and probably the best that I have read this year. Both the portrayal of the girls' friendship, and of the community they come from, are complex, detailed, realistic and illuminating.

The community first - it's a poor district of Naples, and at the start of the story when the girls are six, it's just beginning to recover from the war years. Everyone knows what everyone else did during those years, not least because some people are still living off the ill-gotten money from their underhand behaviour. The historical rivalries and resentments play out in even the lives and friendships of the children too young to know the background, but become even more complex with Italy's post-war economic and political changes. The intense machismo of the neighbourhood also plays a huge part in the dynamics (Lina, typically, tries to ignore it). But all of this is told simply, mainly through the way that it affects the relationships of this group of friends.

Lina herself is a compelling character, and we see her grow from a child, urgently wanting to conquer knowledge of all kinds, to an apparently serene and assured young woman, whose force of will means she will still not be bound by external limitations. Her friendship with Elena as they grow and change is tested many times - Ferrante is brilliant at the little changes in power dynamics and the way the girls use them, through their progress at school, their social networks or relationships with boys. We see Elena dismissing her own successes and wishing she could do well in the areas that Lina is now interested in - and realise much later that Lina was going through the same things.

Without wanting to give anything away, all of this culminates at the end of the book with a set-piece event which involves the whole community, and having known the relationships through the previous ten years, the reader really feels the impact and can imagine it reverberating into the future.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most stunning contemporary voices you'll ever read - utterly gripping, 12 May 2014
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This review is from: My Brilliant Friend (Paperback)
My Brilliant Friend is one of the most compelling novels I've ever read, and in Lina you'll find one of the strongest, most original and memorable female characters you've ever encountered in fiction. This is a book about friendship between two girls - but about so much more at the same time - as it vividly evokes one neighbourhood in Naples in the 1950s. Eye-opening. Highly recommended. The second book after this one The Story of a New Name is nearly as good too. Buy My Brilliant Friend. Read it. Recommend it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The terrors of childhood, the pain of first love, 20 Nov. 2013
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'My Brilliant Friend' moves at a headlong place, the words racing across the page as if Elena Ferrante is writing on the run. She tells the story with power and passion, describing the impossible difficulties that confront Elena and Lila, children living in an impoverished area of Naples after the Second World war. Time and place are vividly evoked but the story has a universal meaning. Anyone who has childhood experience of living in an enclosed environment under the control of adults with repressed emotions and fixed ideas, will be able to relate to Lila and Elena's life in the neighbourhood. In my own case, for example, this was a convent boarding school. Elena's experiences of disassociation, of losing the margins, are a true reflection of the results of this kind of damaging upbringing.

Elena and Lila struggle to grow up amidst the feuds and changing friendships that consume both the children and the adults. Elena Ferrante expertly describes the vulnerability of childhood, the fears and nightmares, the difficulties of coping in a deep dark world full of envy and violence, where the most charming person turns out to be.... well I won't reveal the answer to this. Elena and Lila's lives acquire further complications as they grow into teenagers. The boys of their childhood turn into jealous young men, unstable guardians and protectors who further limit the freedom of the girls.

I believed in it all, so much so that I was startled by the sudden ending. I have only one question. Where are the next two books? (update, reading them now!)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very absorbing, 6 Oct. 2013
This review is from: My Brilliant Friend (Paperback)
Elena Ferrante has a way to get to the uncomfortable core of relationships. She did it before, and she's done it again. In this book though, unlike with her previous novels, she allows herself more space to breathe, and she builds her characters up from childhood. It's a really enthralling read. My favourite book remains The Days of Abandonment, but this is a close second and I look forward to the next volume of this story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Story of Women's Choices, 13 Dec. 2014
This review is from: My Brilliant Friend (Paperback)
I began this book feeling quite ambivalent about it. But as I got deeper I started to catch the fire.
It is important to know it is contextual, I believe. Elena quotes being born in the 40′s and the post war world of Italy was pretty grim at that time as the discussion of politics shows. The women’s problems were illustrated so very well and the sheer hopelessness of their situation grabbed me as one I have heard from that era which had not changed in a long time. But this was a post war period of much change and it slowly trickled down for these women…
These were two very intelligent women but where could they go ? And this to me is the crux of the story, a piece of a bigger post war women’s story. I saw Lila as very narcissistic, or even sociopathic in her ways of making everyone pay for her position and not able to move out of it. Like all narcissists, Lila manages to cultivate admirers along the way, and Elena was the most susceptible in her mild ways as the next books showed for me.
How they react to their situation, the opportunities available and closed in their time registered very strongly knowing the difficulties for women in those times, universally. That Elena chose the path of education and Lila the path of manipulation is a remarkable story of the 50s, 60s and beyond when women were struggling for power of any kind.
Having read all three now I am totally in love with Ferrante’s story and I note the third left the door open so I see that there will be another in 2015 taking up the women’s stories beyond their 30s.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and evocative of the area and time., 10 Nov. 2014
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Gillian Catterall (Near Albi, sw France) - See all my reviews
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I really enjoyed this book. Elena is a marvellous writer and I am so pleased that this is the first book of hers which I have read, and there are more to read. I shall be recommending her to my book club.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence. Every sort of thing happened, at home and outside, every day.", 12 July 2013
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: My Brilliant Friend (Paperback)
Set in an economically depressed community on the fringes of Naples in the early 1950s, at a time in which people are still traumatized by the war and the disasters, Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend becomes a story of nine families who epitomize the Naples neighborhood in which they live. No one can dwell upon the horrors of their war-time past, since they all must work so hard to deal with the financial emergencies they face every day. Living traditional lives, the families have intermarried over the years, ad the adults, like their children, live in the moment - passionately, emotionally, and often violently.

The novel opens in the present in a prologue in which Elena Greco, a long-time acquaintance and oftentimes best friend of Lila Cerullo, receives a telephone call from Lila's son, asking for help. His mother has disappeared, taking all her personal belongings. Elena is certain that "She wanted not only to disappear herself, now, at the age of sixty-six, but also to eliminate the entire life that she had left behind." qConvinced that Lila is overdramatizing, Elena decides to write all the details of their long relationship, "everything that still remained in my memory." The rest of the novel is Elena Greco's story from the time she and Lila are six years old in the early 1950s.

Elena, the oldest child in her family, much prefers school to home, since she does not get along with her mother. Lila Cerullo, a fellow student from a poorer family, impresses Elena from the beginning because her behavior is atrocious. Still, Elena is fascinated by her, and she is stunned when Lila without warning, puts on a powerful demonstration of her unexpected reading ability, having taught herself to read from the age of three. For the rest of their shared schooling, Lila's ability to read and her ferocious search for knowledge make her a brilliant but undisciplined reader who borrows books and remembers everything she reads, even teaching herself foreign languages.

Between the beginning and the end of this novel, when the two friends are sixteen, author Elena Ferrante creates a vivid picture of Neapolitan life from the early 1950s to the early 1960s as times change and people must either change, too, or be left behind. As Elena's education progresses, she moves easily between the Neapolitan dialect spoken at home and the more grammatical Italian which she learns in school, giving her the language skills to move from one social class to another. Her studies and a summer job take her outside the neighborhood, while Lila remains anchored in the neighborhood. Both women understand that it is the men who determine one's social class and control every aspect of family life, and, as the girls approach puberty, they discover that the competition for "appropriate" suitors is fierce.

As the author shows some of the changes in Neapolitan society from the 1950s to 1960s, the novel's scope expands, and the characters' overlapping lives make them human, showing the potential conflicts which social and economic changes can wreak. The biggest problem, structurally, is that the novel's "conclusion" is more of a "stopping place," than a real conclusion, reflecting the fact that this is the first of a trilogy, with the characters continuing for two more novels. Outstanding family saga filled with details of place and time, with volume 2 of the trilogy due out in September.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Journey ever!, 29 Nov. 2014
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This one of the very best journeys I have ever been on. Elena Ferante's writing is incredibly incisive and perceptive about the vicissitudes and profound intimacies of female friendships, probably of all close and eternal friendships. She writes against the backdrop of a vividly alive Naples with all its oppressive loyalties and betrayals. The biggest joy of this novel was to discover that it's the first of a trilogy all of which I recommend with unreserved and dynamic pleasure!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable family saga, 30 Aug. 2013
This book was recommended to me and I am glad I followed it up. I quickly got sucked into the world of the small Italian community and the intense relationship between the two teenage bestfriends, Elena and Lila. I didn`t realise that it is the first of a trilogy so I will look out for the next books.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Naples - love it or hate it - I feel both ways about it, 17 Nov. 2014
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I enjoyed this as it helped me understand what growing up in Naples could have been like in the 1950s - and perhaps accounts for some of why the city is such an amazing place now - just so long as you can avoid getting mugged (I wasn't so lucky). Got a bit long-winded towards the end though....
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My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Paperback - 11 Oct. 2012)
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