In mid October, I noticed on my Subway train to work that 3 women in my car were reading a book with a tacky little cover, all at the same time. Pretty weird odds, but I was certain they all worked for the same publishing company and were reviewing or editing a new book with a temporary cover. Later that night, I wandered to Strand Bookstore and saw a giant display of 4 books of similar cover style and was so confused- I had never seen or heard of this series! I asked an employee about it and she rushed an explanation about the origin of these popular books- almost in a similar way you would embarrassingly describe to your grandma the Twilight series. I was sold. I bought two copies, I was diving in.
My Brilliant Friend is the first installation in a four part series about the friendship of two women growing up in a poor neighborhood in Italy in the 50's. While this specific book spans the course of ages from 5-18, it vaguely echoes the outcome of their life down the road, as the narrator, Elena, is 'explaining how we got here,' after her friend Lulu runs away from her late life.
“Adults, waiting for tomorrow, move in a present behind which is yesterday or the day before yesterday or at most last week: they don't want to think about the rest. Children don't know the meaning of yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this, this is Mamma, this is Papa, this is the day, this the night.”
― Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend
I really loved this book. Have you ever walked out of a theater and were so strongly moved by an emotion that reminded you of someone that you had to call them instantly to say hello, but it's so out of the blue you stop yourself? This was almost the book version of that with so many childhood friends I have had. The story made me ache for a few close relationships I had in my middle teenage years, the type where we were so close and in sync- we would go days together in company yet never speaking, and still conversation and understanding flowed between us. The types of girlfriends you don't realize how special you were to have them until your lives together slowed down and you regretfully filled their role with someone else, but years later still feel ownership of knowing all their firsts even though you don't know their currents. The feeling of conviction that while you experience the overwhelming obsessive experience of first love, you instinctually know that this pure friendship will stand longer than what at the time, seems forever with your first loved. The power of a friendship to this magnitude as a teenage girl is so powerful and romantic in a completely platonic way, I'm not sure I had really thought about it so deeply until it was re-imagined for me in this novel.
“It's hard to explain why, but that regret made me suffer. It seemed to be the sign of a true interest in Lila, something much stronger than the compliments for my discipline as a constant reader. It occurred to me that if Lila had taken out just a single book a year, on that book she would have left her imprint and the teacher would have felt it the moment she returned it, which I left no mark, I embodied only the persistence with which I added volume to volume in no particular order.”
― Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend
I initially thought this was a hard 'women's read' (in sarcastic quotes because why are books categorized as that???) but it was actually really poignant and articulate on the rarity of complex female friendships. The story moved quickly through different times in the two girls life, making my age of 24 seem so temporary on the scale of how much life and relationships evolve.
This is an incredible read for those that really value pure friendship and the power of womanhood and shtuff. Don't let the cover fool you! I was super hesitant about it, and if you haven't heard of it, or seen it everywhere, don't let that stop you, seriously. I am so excited there are three more books for me to dive into because its been four days since I finished it and I already miss it!