I feel like I’ve been comparing a lot of authors/books to Curtis Sittenfeld/Prep, but I don’t care and I’m going to do it again: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante feels like a mix of Curtis Sittenfeld and Adriana Trigiani. The main character gives off that real angsty teenager vibe, but she happens to be Italian. (Neapolitan, to be presise.)
Apparently, Naples was not a very nice place to live in the 1950s. Such is the case for Elena and Lila, the pair of best friends around whom this novel centers. Their story takes us from the girls’ seemingly carefree childhood through their complex teenage years, but starts off with them as old ladies and Lila having run away from, well life, it seems. (So the majority of the novel acts as one giant flashback.) No matter what their age, though, there is a definite vibe of intense competition between the two girls, which is a decently accurate depiction of most female friendships, if you ask me.
To put it simply, Elena is the smart one and Lila is the pretty one. Elena has quite a tough time moving through school because it wasn’t that easy back then for a girl in Naples, and she really just wants to be the pretty one. Lila has every eligible (and some ineligible) male in central Italy proposing to her from the time she is 14, but she really just wants to go to school with Elena (because she also happens to be very smart). The grass is always greener, eh? Lila finally accepts one of those proposals, and it deeply impacts their relationship in a negative way.
My favorite part of the story is when Elena spends a summer in Ischia working for her teacher’s friend, a woman who runs a bed and breakfast by the sea. Honestly, I wish the whole novel took place here because it’s where Elena really seems to grow without the constant influence from/competition with her friend, and where she even gains a little confidence in herself.
So while I mostly enjoyed this novel, I don’t think I’ll read the others in the series — I’m just not that curious about where Elena and Lila end up/why Lila ran away. I do, however, wonder if some things got a bit lost in the translation of this book from Italian to English, and whether or not I would enjoy reading it in Italian (or even be able to).