Susan J. (Twain Harte, CA)
A Complicated Friendship
I enjoyed this book very much and look forward to the rest of the trilogy. I couldn't help but contrast the setting of working class Naples with my own coming of age in the 50s in suburban California; I suspect that these days the images wouldn't be as far apart. Even though I look forward to what comes next in the story, it is the two main characters who interest me the most, and I have so many questions about what lies ahead for Lenu and Lila. Will they continue to grow apart? Will they be disappointed with the choices they have made?
Will they continue to have a strong influence in each others lives?
Dorothy L. (Manalapan, NJ)
A FLAWED JEWEL
My Brilliant Friend has all the components for a good novel--primal human emotions, complex relationships, and an intriguing setting. We feel the love, hatred, fear, ambition, guilt of this microcosm of Italian society in the 1950's. Set in a very poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, we are drawn into relationships between parents and children, siblings, neighbors, and lovers. There is sometimes a Dickensian feel in the description of everyday life--the dreams, hopes, and often despair of the inhabitants of this sequestered world. The thread binding all these relationships is the coming of age and enduring friendship of two young girls, Lila and Elena.
But, for me, this novel is seriously flawed and ultimately fails. The endless narration and lack of dialogue makes this a difficult read. It is a character driven book, but there are too many characters and too many subplots. There is no clearly defined main plot line to propel the book forward. The ending is understated and disappointing. It does not make this reader eager to read the rest of the trilogy and continue the journey.
Nan G. (Mazomanie, WI)
Rich, Complicated Storytelling
Elena Ferrante's novel My Brilliant Friend (the first in a trilogy) is not an easy, throw in the bag book for the beach. Instead, it should be savored under the shade of an old tree over days when you won't be disturbed. It is a rich story with a host of characters, all of whom play a part in the sometimes complicated narrative of a friendship between two women that begins in the 1950's just outside Naples.
Unlike some books translated from the writer's native language, this one flows easily, leaving the reader immersed in a time and place unfamiliar to most American readers. In some ways it reminded me of the "big" novels of Edna Ferber (Giant) or Anton Mryer (The Last Convertible)---leaving me anxious to read more.
Norma R. (Secaucus, NJ)
My Brilliant Friend
Very good "period" piece set in the outskirts of Naples in the late 1950's. It is a coming of age story that chronicles the lives of children growing up on the outskirts of Naples in the 1950's. The plot focuses on several families in a small sheltered neighborhood. I enjoyed this book because it was realistic. At first I expected a saccharin story of a beautiful Italian small town. But the book addresses multiple serious issues. Characters struggle with depression, poverty, and domestic violence. Back of book says this is the first of a trilogy, looking forward to Part 2.
Lori E. (Boston, MA)
My Brilliant Friend
I was very disappointed in this book. Although I appreciated learning about life in Italy in a poor community in the 50's, I found the book tedious. I was bored by the extensive recounting of her early childhood, and I was unsatisfied with the ending. The prologue of the book promised something that it never delivered for me.
Priscilla M. (Houston, TX)
A Mini-Series in the Making
My Brilliant Friend has all the makings of a TV mini-series. In the first installment of a trilogy, Elena Ferrante skillfully involves the reader in life in a neighborhood in Naples, Italy in the 1950's. The inhabitants are poor and hold, for the most part, menial jobs, but their lives are rich in passions, friendships, divided loyalties,unrequited loves, and unrealized dreams.
The main character, Lena, and her best friend and chief competitor, Lila, grow up sharing dolls, dreams, fears, and family complications. The author brings the reader into their lives with a cast of characters that needs a family tree to keep everyone sorted out so that the various feuds and alliances are properly understood. That was probably my chief complaint with the story. I had to constantly refer to said family tree to keep all the alliances clear in my head as I read. This was an engrossing tale, and I wasn't ready to let go of the characters when the story ended.
Eileen F. (Ridgefield, WA)
A great novel, that starts with a phone call from Lila's son to Elena. He wanted to know where his mother was. The story, then follows Lila and Elena through their teens, in a poor neighborhood in Naples. It showcases their desire to learn. It is an emotional ride, with at times some humor. The down side was the multitude of characters, that I had to reference frequently in the front of the book. I am looking forward to reading the future book in the trilogy, because if need to know where Lila is.