How I rate it: 5 of 5 stars
What I liked: This is a deeply intimate novel, and I’m hopeless and helplessly hooked. I’m a fan of historical fiction, but this, like all good historical fiction, transcends the era by its deep and honest engagement with the tensions of the characters inhabiting their time and place.
Plot Summary: Two exceptional and intelligent girls, Greco and Lila, form an unbreakable but complicated bond growing up in a poor, harsh, and at times violent neighborhood in Naples, Italy. The novel is set in the 1950s and is the first novel in the four-novel Neapolitan series that follows the two women through the course of their lives.
I began to weep with lonliness. What was I? Who was I?…What signs did I carry? What fate? I thought of the neighborhood, as of a whirlpool, from which any attempt of escape was an illusion.
Significance: Highly significant for feminist analysis, however, this novel is so intensely personal, so rich and vivid and intimate, that it transcends a classification of “feminist” — or, rather than saying it “transcends” feminist analysis, it might be better to say that it drills down deep, to the level of direct experience, which is the basis of all truth and the starting point for any authentic analysis.
It was an old fear, a fear that has never left me: the fear that, in losing pieces of her life, mine lost intensity and importance…my river of words and her silence seemed to demonstrate that my life was splendid but uneventful..while hers was dark but full.
Note to readers: This is literary fiction, most certainly. Well-read reviewers — whose job it is to read — even complain of getting bogged down. I felt that, quite the contrary, I was enthralled from start to finish. The novel goes deep. Some get hooked in, others don’t. If you do get hooked, then congratulations: you’ve got yourself a thoughtful and poetic four-novel series to get you pondering the essence of life as you traverse the cold, dark winter.
What I appreciated, as a writer: There’s a bit of well-worn wisdom that is shared among writers: show, don’t tell. Ella Ferrante seemingly defies that truism in My Brilliant Friend, which is a novel where we essentially sit in the head of Greco for the entirety of the novel. But it was so damn compelling. Full Disclosure: I listened to the audiobook, with narration provided by Hillary Huber, and Huber’s narration was incredible.
Notes on the Author: There are no notes on the author because we have no author. The author’s pen name is “Ella Ferrante,” but her (or his) actual identity has not yet been discovered.