This is the story of a lifelong friendship between two women, Elena (sometimes called “Lenù”) Greco and Raffaella (“Lila”) Cerullo, set in Naples, Italy. My Brilliant Friend is the first of four books in the series called the Neapolitan Novels. The story begins in 2010 when Elena receives a phone call from Lila’s son. He says his mother has disappeared, and he has no idea where she could be. Elena believes her disappearance is a conscious decision Lila made years ago. Elena then recounts her friendship with Lila, starting when they were children in the 1950s, growing up in a poor neighborhood.
If you’re looking for a quick recommendation, yes, I would definitely recommend this book!
I first heard about this book when I learned it’s also a series on HBO, although I’ve never seen it. I listened to this book on audio through the app called Libby. (A highly recommended app for busy moms!) I thought the characters were deep and relatable because they felt real. But it’s difficult because they are so many different characters, and it can sometimes be hard to keep track of everyone and their relationships.
However, the fact that there are so many people, makes it feel more real. Naples, Italy in the 1950s is not a place that I could possibly imagine. So the constant stream of characters makes it feel populated and alive. Despite a large number of characters, the story mostly focuses on the relationship between Elena and Lila, but it is written from Elena’s perspective in the first person. This makes it interested because we get to see inside Elena’s head where she views Lila as remarkable.
She is also envious of Lila’s quick and natural ability to do anything, but especially school. Their relationship is an interesting one. Elena seems to want to be close to Lila, but her envy always seems to drive her away. When Lila does well in school naturally, Elena pushes herself to become a better student. When Lila marries at the end of the book, Elena feels disappointed that she is not also marrying. Despite Elena’s fluctuating feelings toward Lila, Lila never seems to be bothered by it. Her view of Elena remains constant.
Their relationship and Elena’s feelings of jealousy were the main things that kept me interested in this book. I came close to putting the book down near the beginning of the story because there was no plot, just a relationship. And I had a hard time with that. I often found myself thinking, “What’s the point? What’s the end goal here?” But it’s just about relationships. Growing up. Coming of age. And doing just that with your peers.
No matter if it’s set in 1950s Naples, Italy, or present-day, people don’t change. We all still feel the same emotions, and we are all connected. Overall, I would recommend this to a busy mom. Especially if you’re looking for a story that you can really immerse yourself in. One where you can get lost and feel like you’re a member of Lila and Elena’s neighborhood, just as they are.
Four out of five stars
If you enjoyed my review of My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, you might also like Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Check out my review!
If you’re interested in purchasing My Brilliant Friend, here are some quick links to buy the book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And, if you’re interested to see what others think, here’s the link to the book on Goodreads.