Friendship. The world conjures so many images and experiences. It is difficult to pinpoint one and alienate them from the other. There have been several movies made on this emotion (it would be safe to call it that) and several books written on it as well. I have just finished reading one of such books, titled, “My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante, set in Naples, Italy.
The book begins with a phone call in the present and then moves to the past. The story is set in the present times and begins in 1950s in a poor and vibrant neighbourhood of Naples, where two best friends Elena and Lila meet and their lives change (I know it is a cliché but it is true) as the town, city and nation progresses on its own terms and conditions. There is a lot that happens in the book and yet at no point Ferrante is rushing the reader. You can read the book at your own pace, which to me is one of the best things about this book.
The sub-plots in the book make it even more interesting. There is a lot happening in the book, which almost runs parallel to the core of the story. The neighbourhood in which the girls grow up – the different personalities that make up the place, the economic status, the small joys and the importance of education are brought about beautifully by Ferrante. The girls embrace intellectualism and are able to cope with their existence to a very large extent. At the same time, they are equally motivated by their lady teacher to stand up for themselves and are forever competing while growing up.
There is the usual on-going in the book: The different personalities of the girls, the ways in which their lives diverge and sometimes cross paths and how the two of them still remain friends no matter what. This is only the first installment of a trilogy. There is thankfully more to come as Ferrante leaves a lot of threads hanging in this one, which had me wondering about the closure of the characters and situations. What also struck me the most was the landscape of the novel – the cities and the towns and the country in which this book is set and how it travels the lay of the land is stunningly described. That is one of the major points of this book as well.
The writing is fluid and does not restrict itself to the plot. The translation by Ann Goldstein does a fantastic job of communicating this to readers. Elena Ferrante for me was a new writer and I am so not disappointed in reading this one. In fact I am almost elated that I read this book. While the story as I said earlier is almost clichéd, it is the way in which it is written, that makes it different and unique. The reader tends to feel and connect with both protagonists. Some may identify more with Elena and some less with Lila, however both are equally important to the way the story moves and progresses. This is one-of-a-kind novel and a must read. I for one cannot wait for the other two parts to be out.