Contemporary reading

My Brilliant Friend from Elena Ferrante


I must admit that very few novels have touched and « haunted » me as much as My Brilliant Friend. It took me a while to delve into the saga, since the first volume was published in January 2016 and I finally decided to buy it only a few months before the publication of the fourth and last volume. What finally convinced me to buy the first volume was not the friendly relationship of Elena and Lila, which is nevertheless the common thread of the story, but rather the context in which it comes to life namely Naples and the post-war socio-historical context.

After only a few pages of reading, I felt completely engulfed by Naples, its inhabitants, its smells, its laws, its violence and its poverty. Naples is omnipresent and shows us its reality without ever falling into clichés. Naples is at the same time alive, violent and cruel; the city is a cleaver who will inevitably fall on each of its inhabitants, and this, whether they escape from it or not, because being far from Naples does not change the fact that one is Neapolitan, as Elena will experiment.

In this novel, everything is complex: the city and its history, the relationship that will unite Elena and Lila but also the personal and friendly relationships of the two protagonists. Each of the relationships formed by Elena and Lila carries the weight of a difficult time, a country under reconstruction and a patriarchal society against which nobody, or almost, dares to rebel.

Elena Ferrante allows us to follow the tumultuous story of friendship that will link Elena and Lila from earliest childhood to old age and if this link is established from the first lines of the novel, I did not stop asking myself which, in essence, had sealed and maintained this bond of friendship.
From their childhood, Ferrante indeed shows us that Elena and Lila are very different because if they are both gifted for studies and they are both hard worker, only one of them will have the possibility of continuing her studies, and this is where an already complex relationship will grow between the two friends who both dreamt to leave Naples.

The two friends ultimately have in common this spirit of rebellion and freedom which pushes them to revolt themselves each in their own way, but almost always through violence and against the established society. This violence is also present in the association that Elena will make between the Neapolitan language and the vulgar. Indeed, she does not consider Neapolitan as a language but as a coarse dialect and a vulgar accent which emerges when she speaks Italian and which must be hidden at all costs.

If you allow yourself to be absorbed by the story, reading My Brilliant Friend is far from being an easy ride, but this saga can, in my opinion, echo with any reader and must undoubtedly be qualified as one of most beautiful and great contemporary works.

Each of us has already felt this feeling of absorption after the end of a book or at the exit of the cinema, as if the story that we had just shared was now a small part of ourselves, at least for a while. Today I can say that after having swallowed up the four volumes My Brilliant Friend is a part of me. It is in a small corner of my mind because that thanks to the writing and the unforgettable story of Elena Ferrante, I lived this story too.

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