Whatever it is, Elena Ferrante understands. Your darkest self, the part of you that you desperately hope no one ever sees, she does, and she gets it.Whatever it is, Elena Ferrante understands. Your darkest self, the part of you that you desperately hope no one ever sees, she does, and she gets it. She might pass judgement, she may hold it against you, ever so slightly, but she knows where you're coming from when you're at your worst. She sees and writes about so clearly that delicate tightrope we walk with our friendships between honesty and loving support. As humans we are flawed, and these flaws most often come out into the light when we are interacting with other people.
"Every intense relationship between human beings is full of traps, and if you want it to endure you have to learn to avoid them." --pg 451
As we go through our lives, there are things about ourselves that we hide from our own consciousness, and hope no one notices them. As a mother, protagonist Elena lashes out at her children when she's stressed or angry about outside situations and often leaves them for weeks at a time without thinking twice, but when her friend mentions being a shitty mother, Elena defends herself, never copping to the fact that she may have been somewhat wanting in that area. Yet the way Ferrante portrays it, you can tell that the character Elena sees it, like a shadow flickering in the corner of her eye, where many of our deepest flaws lurk.
This is what is at the heart of the Neapolitan Novels and their appeal to me. Beyond the fantastic writing and storytelling, the complete honesty is what ensnared and enmeshed me in with the characters. Their complexity and intelligence, their mistakes and successes--nothing is black and white. All people have a part of themselves that is their best self, and a part that is the worst, and those differing parts surface despite and because of our best intentions. I feel like it is rare to see an author who is able to portray this as well as Ferrante does, and for this reason alone these books enter my pantheon of favorites. When this book ended and Lila and Lenu left my life, I felt very much as Lenu does as she ponders her friends absence and realizes it's bitter finality. I wonder how long I'll wait to re read the series......more
I want to go around and press copies of My Brilliant Friend on everyone I know. Each book in this series is amazing, hands down and flat out. Those WhI want to go around and press copies of My Brilliant Friend on everyone I know. Each book in this series is amazing, hands down and flat out. Those Who Leaves and Those Who Stay continues to explore the lives of its characters with the same ruthless honesty and insight of its predecessors, and I fucking loved it liked I loved all the Neapolitan Novels. The feminism that Ferrante begins espousing in the end is genius--totally true to life in the hypocrisy of the character who is writing it--and I can't wait to read more. ...more
"What you select from, in order to tell your story, is nothing less than everything," he said, watching the branches of the old trees dark against the"What you select from, in order to tell your story, is nothing less than everything," he said, watching the branches of the old trees dark against the sky. "What you build up your world from, your local, intelligible, rational, coherent world is nothing less than everything. And so all selection is arbitrary. All knowledge is partial--infinitesimally partial. Reason is a net thrown out into an ocean. What truth it brings in is a fragment, a glimpse, a scintillation of the whole truth. All human knowledge is local. Every life, each human life, is local, is arbitrary, the infinitesimal momentary glitter of a reflection of..." His voice ceased, the silence of the glade among great trees continued. --Ursula K LeGuin, Four Ways to Forgiveness
Four Ways is a wonderful quartet of love stories set in LeGuin's Hainish world. Though couched in romance, each story is a powerful study of culture, freedom, the nature of power, and gender. Brilliant, beautifully written, and moving, I think that this has eclipsed "The Dispossessed" as my favorite LeGuin. She is science fiction at its best, and by doing so, transcends the genre. ...more
I don't think I've ever read anything that better depicts the turmoil of emotions in a friendship. Envy, admiration, respect, jealously, love, insecurI don't think I've ever read anything that better depicts the turmoil of emotions in a friendship. Envy, admiration, respect, jealously, love, insecurity, anger––these feelings are not mutually exclusive, and Ferrante shows this to us with devastating accuracy. We often see portraits of friends who are there for one another when life is painful or hard, that say "you go girl!" and are unqualifyingly supportive and comforting. What Ferrante has me wondering now is how much of this is a product of our American middle-class culture?
Poverty both complicates and simplifies life, it strips away illusions and makes you see that the blunt facts of our existence broil down to having enough money to feed, clothe and shelter ourselves and our families. In this environment, crime and corruption are not shocking or even necessarily evil, they are a choice made out of desperation by those who have the moral flexibility and/or weakness of character to engage in them. A quick way to, for once, have enough money. No doubt this path leads many into darkness, but it is an understandable choice.
It is in this world that My Brilliant Friend takes place. There is no room for illusion, there is no outside world. What exists are the established networks of family feuds and the code of conduct in place for keeping the peace. Violate them, and violence will follow. The neighborhood in which Lila and Lenu grow up in is all that is known to them or their family--they live in Naples but have never been to the sea. They are both from a young age able to see their world for what it is, and it is this unembellished perspective that informs their relationship with each other. If Lenu were to fall, Lila may catch her, or may let her fall, depending on the circumstance. They are friends, they are loyal, but there is an implicit understanding that they must first look after themselves and their family. More than emotional support of comfort, it is sheer competitiveness that drives their friendship, and at least for Lenu, this is better than any "you go girl!" she could get for hauling herself out of the life she was born into. Lila's fate is trickier, and I can't wait to read the rest of the series to find out what it is. ...more
I loved this book when I was in my early 20s. I totally identified with Stella's awkwardness and social ineptitude, laughing and cringing while I readI loved this book when I was in my early 20s. I totally identified with Stella's awkwardness and social ineptitude, laughing and cringing while I read and re-read it. I also loved "Cold Comfort Farm" at the time, which one reviewer has already drawn the parallel to. However, Stella is a poor stand in for the supremely self assured Flora, and Rachel Cusk has yet to stand the test of time that Stella Gibbons has. I have yet to revisit this book as an older and more mature human being. I think I'll put it off a little longer still and enjoy the memory of the book rather than risk fault finding. ...more
Re read (more accurately, I re skimmed) the entire Harry Potter series for the...no need to know how many times. However, at the end, I reached two coRe read (more accurately, I re skimmed) the entire Harry Potter series for the...no need to know how many times. However, at the end, I reached two conclusions I had never reached before, though both are fairly obvious. One is that the series is an argument that emotional intelligence is more powerful than intellect. Harry isn't especially brilliant, he's a mediocre student, and he can be a bit slow on the uptake, but he usually has his eye out for more than just himself, and his final conversation with Dumbledore is a discourse on why it's not the super smart who should be in power but the good hearted. The second conclusion was that I should wait a long long while before my next re reading because some of the more powerful scenes lost their impact on me. That's all. ...more
Whenever I see this book on my list of favorites, I'm always puzzled why its there if I only gave it 4 stars. Starting the book on tape on a drive bacWhenever I see this book on my list of favorites, I'm always puzzled why its there if I only gave it 4 stars. Starting the book on tape on a drive back down from Vancouver BC to Seattle a couple weekends ago, I was compelled to re-read the whole thing and I realized why the discrepancy. I love how reading this book makes me feel. The landscape Ian Frazier evokes catapults my imagination to that part of the world and inspires nostalgia for my time in the Central Asian section of the former USSR. The smells, sights, flavors and idiosyncrasies he describes are so vivid that even though I have never been to Russia proper, I feel I know exactly what he's talking about. I wanted to linger in his descriptions of traveling in Siberia like basking in a steaming banya on a day when the temperature reaches below zero. Still, the meandering tangents and interspersed history lessons periodically made me impatient and want to skim ahead. I simultaneously thought the book needed a vicious editing and never wanted it to end. I finished it and immediately combed my house for other books about Russia. Looking at my half-finished copy of "War and Peace" while wondering about my missing copy of "The Master and Margarita", I realized my problem--I want to read about Russia as non-Russians experience it; a travel memoir such as this one, but by a different author. I want to bask in the confusion of Russian names with someone equally as clueless, and read descriptions of Soviet-era monuments and cars that break down constantly but can always be fixed. I want to hear about the crazy vastness and monotony of the Russian steppe and ponder the endless cold of Russian winters from one inspired by the strangeness of it all, not a native son or daughter who looks around and says "of course it is like this!" So far, I haven't found a follow up, but I hope to soon. If not Russia, then maybe I need to peruse the travel section next time I go to the bookstore and find a different landscape to loose myself in. ...more
I read these stories for the first time when I was in high school. I remember reading at a bus stop, totally absorbed in the tragic loss of a mother aI read these stories for the first time when I was in high school. I remember reading at a bus stop, totally absorbed in the tragic loss of a mother and father of their child while a mad cake-maker harasses them, and being shocked back into reality by the bus arriving. ...more
When I first read this book during high school, I was so inspired that I wrote "Trout Fishing In America" on every desk that I sat. Since then, I haveWhen I first read this book during high school, I was so inspired that I wrote "Trout Fishing In America" on every desk that I sat. Since then, I have read it many more times, and have been impressed how the combination of humor, poetry, and absurdity that is uniquely Brautigan has never dulled in my eyes. ...more
I loved this book. I brought it with me to a volunteer shift as as something that would be easily picked up then put down again. How could something wI loved this book. I brought it with me to a volunteer shift as as something that would be easily picked up then put down again. How could something with the dreary and cumbersome title "Of Human Bondage" be engrossing? By the third day, I came home from my shift and was absolutely lost for the rest of the day in Philip's life. When I finished it, I was left with the lovely, fuzzy sort of feeling that I get when I read a book that truly speaks to me of life, the universe, and all that. Philip's struggles, failures, and epiphanies often hit close to home, but the evolution of Philip's character and his occasional ripping apart of his own self-delusion made the pain he suffered bearable. For the most of the book, Philip is a pretentious blow-hard, but by the end he is genuinely humble and compassionate. Maugham could have easily made "Of Human Bondage" a tragedy. Instead, he makes it a story of transformation and growth in a way that is neither trite nor unrealistic. This book is said to be strongly autobiographical. If it is, it is a testament to Maugham's ability to examine himself unsparingly and create a great work of art. ...more