Tuesday 6 October 2015

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

It almost feels a bit redundant to write a review about My Brilliant Friend, since nearly everyone I know in blogger land has already read and reviewed it.

But since this blog explores my personal journey with books rather than writing straight book reviews, I figure I'll find something to say that is unique!

Part of the difficulty when finally reading a book that everyone around you has been raving about for months is the high level of expectation.

The Neapolitan Novels are now one of my colleagues favourite books. Dear Libby has been at me all year to read them. She is currently on a month long tour of Italy.
I felt I owed it to her to read at least one of them while she was gone so we could finally talk about it when she gets back.

And while it is fair to say that I loved the book, admired the beautiful language and now want to read the next three books, I haven't felt the need to rave.

This got me thinking.
What books do I rave about? Why not this one?

It all boils down to a sense of discovery.
Books that I have raved and gushed about in recent times, were ones that I felt that I had discovered all by myself. They were unknown quantities, new experiences to me. I often approached these books with no more expectation than a general, "this looks like my kind of book. I'll give it a go."

Does it matter that I don't feel the need to gush and rave about this book?
Isn't it enough to say that My Brilliant Friend is an extraordinary portrait of friendship, eloquently told? Does a book with so much heart, so rich in detail really need my rave review? Isn't this book, this series selling itself on its own merits?

Although the mystery surrounding Ferrante must be part of the success of this word of mouth sensation.
Elena Ferrante is a pen name.
Almost nothing is known about the real identity of the author.
I couldn't help but wonder if the Neapolitan novels were autobiographical in nature. Not just because of the name of the narrator (Elena), but also because the story felt so very, very real.
The observations about friendship and some of the little incidents seemed grounded in real events. The emotions, the dramas, the scenes read just like a memoir.

This could explain why the author has chosen to write under a nom de plume. The streets of Naples belong to the Camorra. My Brilliant Friend describes the interactions, the effects, the influences and the behaviours of the Camorra on everyday Neapolitan life.

However, my knowledge of the Camorra was non existent until my reading of My Brilliant Friend. I had to do some research.

My knowledge of the Mafia was purely based on American movies like The Godfather. 
For instance,  I didn't realise that the Mafia was called by different names in different regions - Cosa Nostra in Sicily, Ndrangheta in Calabria, Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia and, of course, the Camorra in Naples.

A Vanity Fair article, The Camorra Never Sleeps, from 2012, says,
The Camorra is not an organization like the Mafia that can be separated from society, disciplined in court, or even quite defined. It is an amorphous grouping in Naples and its hinterlands of more than 100 autonomous clans and perhaps 10,000 immediate associates, along with a much larger population of dependents, clients, and friends. It is an understanding, a way of justice, a means of creating wealth and spreading it around. It has been a part of life in Naples for centuries—far longer than the fragile construct called Italy has even existed. At its strongest it has grown in recent years into a complete parallel world and, in many people’s minds, an alternative to the Italian government, whatever that term may mean. Neapolitans call it “the system” with resignation and pride. The Camorra offers them work, lends them money, protects them from the government, and even suppresses street crime. The problem is that periodically the Camorra also tries to tear itself apart, and when that happens, ordinary Neapolitans need to duck.
Is it any wonder that the author wishes to remain anonymous?

This book is #2 out of my 15in31 challenge throughout October.

My reviews for The Story of a New Name
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
The Story of the Lost Child

also by Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment


  1. Oh my, I didn't know that about the Camorra. I haven't read the Ferrante books yet but eventually I plan to. Sometimes raved about books can be tough if you end up not liking them as well. For instance I just reviewed Bill Clegg's novel Did You Ever Have a Family which for whatever reason I didn't like as much as everyone else raved about. So it was sort of a bummer. I guess big hype can be sort of bad if one is over-expecting a miracle read or whatnot.

    1. The weird thing is I did actually enjoy this book a lot. And I really want to read the next book in the series soon. But I just don't feel the need to rave or gush!


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