My brilliant friend is the first in the Neapolitan Novels series by Italian author Elena Ferrante. (My brilliant friend; The story of a new name; Those who leave and those who stay; and The story of the lost child to be published in September, 2015.) Two female characters and their friendship are the focus in all of the novels.
It is a short time after the end of World War II, in a poor community on the outskirts of Naples where an enclave of families and neighbors live. Their hidebound customs and traditions, friendships, loves, hates, resentments and grudges propel and impede their lives. In this mix are two young girls, Lila and Elena, whose friendship, rivalry and quiet admiration for each other hold great promise for their future lives. Lila is beautiful, brilliant, bold, charismatic and disarming. Lacking the time and peace for any type of reflection, she acts impetuously with misdirected energy infused with anger. Not as brave or daring is Elena who quietly, purposefully plods on at school, all the time admiring her audacious friend.
On a daily basis, Lila defies the role of the acquiescent female in this traditional Neapolitan society. She does not shy away from facing the men who toss out obscenities at groups of young girls who walk by. Lila looks them in the eye and the men do not say a word to the beautiful young girl. However it is ironic that Lila takes on the traditional role of mother and wife, minus the education that would have given her both an autonomous and a traditional life. Elena will leave the city, get an education, marry and write about her friend who has mysteriously disappeared. But will the education give her the brilliance and daring of Lila?
Through her characters and their situations, Ferrante clearly and evocatively presents the choices, problems and possibilities for young girls and women. All of this is achieved by way of a dynamic writing style and plot which are perfection in form and content. Ferrante's writing is unsparing in her candid portrayals of girls/women and their friendships, friction, rivalry, and support. This first novel for adults will also have young adult appeal.
The very private author, Elena Ferrante, has been nominated for Italy's most prestigious literary award, Strega.