Book Club: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Sunday was one of my favourite days of the month: BOOK CLUB DAY!
About three and a half years ago I decided I wanted to be in a book club, and then thought instead of joining one I would just start one, because as well as encouraging me to read more things I wouldn’t necessarily always choose myself, it might be a lovely excuse to get a bunch of pals together for a meet-up every month. AND BY GEORGE I WAS RIGHT!
We’re called The Bookie Monsters (I know), and we meet once a month in pubs/restaurants/cafes around London, eating all the food, drinking all the alcohol and chatting about the book of the month.
This month we met in the lovely White Hart in Waterloo for huge, groaning plates of Sunday Roast and cheese boards to have a chinwag about My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
Set in a small town just outside Naples in the 1950s, this is the first book of a trilogy, named the Neapolitan Novels. It centres around a friendship spawned between two young girls, pricking their fingers and becoming ‘blood sisters’ and sees them growing up into young women, through puberty, schooling and dalliances with chaps.
What’s interesting about their friendship and what the book has been praised for, is the way in which the complex relationship between the two girls is explore. Lila is unpredictable, headstrong, dazzlingly clever and grows into a stunning beauty, whereas our narrator, Elena, tags along behind her, always in second place. There’s constant competition between the two, with moments of utter jealousy, but in other places, affection, trust and the notion that both girls need each other.
Whilst the Bookie Monsters found that relationship sometimes irritating to read (the ‘frenemy’ thing does wear a bit thin after a while- one just wants to shake Elena and tell her to grow a backbone at times), we all agreed that the depiction of 1950s Naples is stunning. It’s portrayed as a dangerous, violent place with husbands beating their wives and children, brothers seeking revenge for their sisters honour, tempestuous arguments between lovers, all with the lurking figure of the Mafia looming nearby.
PLUS there’s some great stuff in there about how females are treated, controlled, abused and worshipped. Good to see Everyday Sexism was rife. This paragraph in particular particularly rang true with me, having been heckled in the street a number of times.
Elena Ferrante has caused a bit of a storm in the literary world, with her books creeping their way into international acclaim. Yet, no-one really knows who she is. She doesn’t give interviews, she won’t appear publicly and no photographs of her have ever been published. Indeed, the Guardian called her “the literary sensation nobody knows.” HOW BEGUILING!
Whilst I probably won’t go on to read the rest of the series, I’m jolly glad I gave this a read for an insight into that claustrophobic, pulsating neighbourhood that Lila and Elena inhabit. Next month we’re reading Eat Your Heart Out by Zoe Pilger (and it was my choice so I’m praying it is enjoyed by everyone.)
Have you ever read anything by Elena Ferrante?