My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrrante has been widely hailed by the literati as a modern masterpiece, a title that is not undeserved for it is a masterpiece, but it is not a light, warm, welcoming read. Rich, intense and provocative, it is a coming of age story of two young girls growing up in Neapolitan Italy – Lila and Elena. The novel paints a painstakingly detailed portrait of the two girls as their lives weave in and out of each other’s and move from childhood, through adolescence and to the very brink of adulthood. The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but dynamic and vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. The novel beautifully and subtly also reflects the process of a nation undergoing change, set as it is in Italy during tthe post war era.
While we learn of the beautiful minutiae of detail of these girls lives – their sometimes mundane and often shocking existence, there is a rawness that on occasion leaps violently off the pages reminding us how in the everyday, life can and does take unexpected turns. The fact the novel is narrated from the perspective of a women living through a very male dominated world is both enlightening and fascinating as we see quite clearly the impact of that world on its female protagonists. This novel is the first in a four part series which follows with The Story of a New Name and ends in the most recent instalment in The Story of the Lost Child so that is very exciting in itself that we don't have to leave Lila and Elena but are able to read on. Where will they live? Will they break free? Will their friendship withstand the almost certainly tumultuous time ahead of them? I for one cannot wait to find out, and neither will you.. Get crackin'. There’s three more to go after this one.