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January 2017: Foreign Literature > "My Brilliant Friend"by Elena Ferrante (3 stars)

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message 1: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2322 comments I started this book months ago but it didn't match my mood at the time, so I put it away. I used our "foreign literature" tag for January to restart it and make sure I finished it. It still rather missed the mark for me, though I ended up liking it more than I initially thought. Since I'm somewhat slow on the uptake with literary appreciation, I'd also probably get more out of it if I read it a second time...

I did like the sense of place and period. There's a gritty and horrible realism to the descriptions of the area in which Elena and Lila grow up and are expected to remain, the feuds, the casual violence, the dysfunctional families and the narrowness and poverty of the world they long to escape.

One of my troubles with the book was that I didn't warm to either of the central characters, whose unlikely friendship is the core of the novel. Maybe you're not supposed to like them (and I know many brilliant novels have unattractive protagonists), but it would have helped me. Elena is self-absorbed and jealous. Lila is mean. The competition in their friendship is interesting - it drives each of them (particularly Elena but, far less obviously, Lila) to excel. Lila's passion for learning for its own sake and effortless brilliance is contrasted with Elena's more prosaic diligence. But there were only so many times I needed to be told that this was going on. Ditto the whole episode of Lila and her brother designing and making the shoes - yes, it brings various characters into orbit with one another and creates dramatic tension, but I could have done without the repetition and 'going nowhere-ness' of some of it.

My other trouble was the language, which I found strangely jarring quite a lot of the time. It wasn't at all heavy to read, and some episodes were brilliantly evocative (visiting Don Achille, for instance). But it wasn't a book I could just lose myself in. Possibly it's because the book is told from the perspective of an older woman (Elena) recapturing her thoughts and experiences from when she was 6 to 16: so the voice is neither fully adult nor child/young adult.

Either way, I think I'm missing something. The book has been hugely praised by people who know a lot more than I do. I'm very glad I persisted and that I finished it, and I can appreciate that it's well done, but I won't be rushing to get the others in the series just yet. Maybe next year.


message 2: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6431 comments Ha ha, I, too, felt like I was missing something. This book was raved about by the media, and I pretty much felt the same as you did. Nothing special.


message 3: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4488 comments Another nothing special from me. I feel like I missed something.


message 4: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2322 comments Thanks, ladies - that makes me feel miles better!


message 5: by Denizen (last edited Jan 29, 2017 08:22AM) (new)

Denizen (den13) | 1138 comments I enjoyed it and liked the next 2 books even more. I still have the 4th book to go. I found the characters and setting interesting.


message 6: by annapi (new)

annapi | 4971 comments I won book 4 in a contest and started book 1, but I got distracted. Will have to get back to it one of these days, but these reviews are not too encouraging! However, Denizen gives me hope that I might enjoy it after all. :)


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