Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2012) 5 Stars *****

An excellent source book for women’s studies and sociological patterns.

Intelligent. Insightful. Thought Provoking.
Elena Ferrante will be remembered as one of the greatest novelists of all time.

Where does one start to describe this book that pierces the heart and mind with a mixture of conflicting emotions as the reader struggles to take sides and assign culpability in this truly amazing coming of age story set in the outskirts of Naples, Italy in the 1950s and 1960s? We meet the main characters Elena (Lenu), the narrator, and her best friend Raffaella (Lila), as primary grade students with a complex relationship of perpetual duality: love/frustration,  support/disinterest, trust/suspicion, understanding/judgment, admiration/resentment, emulation/rejection, cooperation/independence. The real question: Which one is truly the brilliant friend?

The characters are complex. In their early years, although opposite in personality and family circumstances, they are on the same plane. By the time middle school comes about, Lenu is a quiet, shy, studious, secretive, passive aggressive, pleasing follower while Lila is a boisterous, confrontational, elusive, rebellious, self-taught leader. Lenu’s family allows her to complete high school while Lila’s family demands that she leave school after the elementary level to help in the family business. As youngsters, Lenu is the pretty one, while as teenagers, Lila develops into the seductress. The more demanding and manipulative she is, the more the boys adore Lila. Both girls give off conflicting messages as they engage in a rivalry to establish themselves as the superior one. Lila is the first to marry at age sixteen. Despite Lila’s apparent independent strength, she is the one who is entrapped by the norms of the society in which they live, while Lenu’s education appears to open her mind to the possibility of a different way of life. This book is an excellent source for a course on women’s studies, the plight of women, or sociology in a male dominated society.

As in any poor neighborhood where the residents are struggling for basic existence, living in close quarters, and searching for ways to make money to improve their lives and provide for their families, illegal activities and violent episodes mar the tranquility of daily life. Point, counterpoint. The residents of this embroiled village victimize each other. Who else is there in this static town where new people do not move in and residents hardly move out? Today you’re up. Tomorrow you’re down. But not for long. And so it goes.

It appears that the representation of everyday life in this part of Italy, while not flattering, is accurate. Major and minor characters are complex. They seem real. Could it be that they are truly a figment of the author’s imagination?

I happened to read this book coincidentally as the HBO mini-series of the same name aired. The series is true to the book. Many of the lines were taken straight from the book dialogue spoken in Neapolitan dialect with English subtitles. A few minor details were changed, but too few to mention. Hearing the familiar  Neapolitan dialect which I learned from exposure to my Neapolitan mother and grandmother made the series all the more enjoyable for me. All in all, a brilliantly written book has been made into an equally  brilliant mini-series. I believe we can expect a host of awards for this one.

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym for an author who wishes to remain invisible. As a matter of fact, writing is not her full time job. She writes these wonderful books in her spare time—when she’s not at her day job. Is she even really a woman? No one knows. In any event, her Neapolitan Novels series contains four books: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child.  Although I do not know the time frame for these HBO presentations, we can expect at least the next two books to be made into mini-series to give us closure on Lenu and Lila’s story. I look forward to reading and reviewing the next three books.

The review for The Story of a New Name will be published on January 9, 2019.

Ciao bella!


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I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Saturday, March 14, 2020- Barnes & Noble, Massapequa, NY 12:00-4:00pm

June 2020
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