My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I began this book with great anticipation.  It had been recommended to me by a few different friends, each of whose opinions I respected, and the setting was even in Italy, where I’d just been fortunate enough to have visited only a few weeks before.

The story is about Elena Greco, who grows up with her unwieldy friend, Lila.  Whereas Elena struggles with her own identity, Lila, who is fiercely brilliant and strong, seems to be very sure of who she is.  At a very young age, Lila asserts herself as a creative, intelligent and physically strong person who is able to pull everyone around her under her spell.  Elena has great difficulty doing anything of her own volition, as she, more than everyone else, is bound to Lila, somehow.  As they grow older, they are pulled in opposite directions:  Elena, deeper into the direction of more advanced education and Lila, deeper into the roots of their poor neighborhood in Naples.  While gang-style conflicts brew around them, they hold onto their bond as they navigate their way through adolescence.

I didn’t love this book as I’d anticipated, but I didn’t hate it either.   It is a coming-of-age story of young girls and their friendships and the typical adolescents’ striving for identity.  It is also an interesting look into the poor neighborhoods in Italy and into Italian culture in general.  The characters depicted here are colorful and evolving.  But I had difficulty getting past the writing/translation, which I felt was often awkward and grammatically strange.     I also had difficulty believing that a whole neighborhood could be completely obsessed with one individual girl, the premise on which this story is based.

I’m glad I did read it to know what everyone has been talking about.  At some point I may read the others in this trilogy – but I’m not rushing to do so.  Unfortunately, this one is not going on my “Must Read” list…

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