Monday, 7 April 2014

My brilliant friend, Elena Ferrante

Elena gets a call from Rino, Lina’s son. He tells her his mother has disappeared without a trace.
This message triggers Elena’s memory and she thinks back to the friendship she and Lina had, when they grew up in a neighbourhood in Napels in the fifties.
It is a world where the wounds caused by the war are not healed yet. A world filled with poverty, where the women grow old  too soon and the men defend the honour of their sisters and fiancées with violence.

Both girls are smart, but Lina is truly brilliant. She is original and intelligent and Elena knows Lina is much smarter than she is. Admiration and jealousy are equally mixed in their friendship.

Lina wants a way out of the neighbourhood she grows up in, she wants to discover the world and do something special with her life.
However, after primary school Lina is taken out of school and Elena gets a chance to go to secondary school. Lina hopes for a very long time her parents will let her go to school, and without any help she teaches herself Latin and Greek by studying the grammar.
She also has plans to design and produce shoes. Her father is a cobbler, but Lina thinks more can be done with her father’s simple shop.
All these plans come to nothing, and finally Lina only sees one way out; marriage when she is just sixteen.

Elena is now the clever one, she even thinks about going to university. And although she does what Lina so desperately wanted to do, Elena feels Lina surpassed her in so many other ways.

We do not know who Elena Ferrante is, the only things we know is that is a pseudonym and that she wrote three other books before this one.
My brilliant friend is the first part about the friendship between Elena and Lina. This books stops at Lina’s wedding, when she finds out something she rather would not have known.
I am looking forward to the next book and I am curious to see how things go on and why Lina wanted to disappear years later.

Without any effort the atmosphere of Napels is brought to life in this book. The fifties change into the sixties; morals shift and society changes. This is all made clear without enormous explanations, but in subtle remarks.
Elena’s voice and the way she looks at thing changes during the story, from a young and naïve girl she becomes a young woman who can even thing about going to university. And because she tells about the events years later, she can see things she did not see at the time.
My brilliant friend is an intelligent and well written book. I cannot wait for the next part.

Original Italian title: L’amica geniale
Published in 2011

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