Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend” is the first in a four-part saga, The Neapolitan Novels, set in 1950’s Naples, Italy. The novel is focused on the friendship of Elena Greco and Lila Cerrullo who grow up together. Their friendship sits at the forefront of this novel, everything else, including romantic and familial relationships, is secondary.
Ferrante grapples with the nuances of a relationship that is often taken for granted, the relationship between little girls. She is Twain-like in her appreciation for both the beautiful and ugly nature of intense female friendship; a type of friendship that can only be achieved as a child. She holds this relationship up as one worthy of study. Before the girls become interested in men or careers, they are interested in each other. As a reader, it is exciting to read about a relationship so often overlooked or overshadowed by romance.
This novel is a great summer read; it is set in an Italian town and is plot driven and fast-paced. The narrative often revolves around Elena and Lila’s summers together. Ferrante submerges readers in mid-twentieth century Italian culture and keeps the story moving through the years.
The novel was originally written in Italian and has been translated into English by Ann Goldstein, a writer for The New Yorker.