My brilliant friend or…my annoying friend?

Published by Elena Feresin on

Review of My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I’m well aware that mine is going to be an unpopular opinion.

It took me a while to approach My brilliant friend by Elena Ferrante for I’ve always had a repulsion for extremely popular books.
I was reluctant to them even at 9 years old, with my first Harry Potter but, when I started reading, the story mesmerized me so much that now I also have a Harry Potter-Themed tattoo.

When my cousin handed me My Brilliant Friend (yes, the English version. I know we’re weird), I was not really convinced but also ready to change my mind.

Well, that did not happen. Not entirely, at least.

My Brilliant Friend Plot

My brilliant friend narrates the story of a friendship, the book cover says it is a bildungsroman. Lenù, the narrator, and Lila belong in the same neighborhood of Naples and meet at school. They bond and the novel is the day-by-day description of their friendship throughout the years (the story goes on in the other three volumes of the series).

Both friends are immediately presented as brilliant. Lenù is a bookworm and what lacks in spontaneity makes up with studying hard. Lila, on the other hand, is naturally clever, the type of kid that barely opens the book and gets all top marks.
The two girls alternate moments of unconditional love and deep hatred, envy and support, healthy competition, and mad war.

What I liked about My Brilliant Friend

Language is simple but flowy and brings you through the novel at the right pace.

As an Italian, what I liked the most about the novel is that, despite being set in Naples, for once focuses narration on something other than criminality. It’s a breath of fresh air that we really need, although it’s still far from giving abroad a full picture of what Italy actually is (but I hope that you’ll be able to discover a bit more of that from my blog).

What I didn’t like about My Brilliant Friend

The real reason why I won’t read the other novels is that I find both Lenù and Lila extremely annoying. They are worse than Madame Bovary. They are the kind of girls you meet at school and hope to never, ever, see again after.
Even if they alternate moments of sympathy and hatred they rarely argue in the novel. Most of their fights are silent wars, fought with tricks, emotional extortions, and showoffs.
Their friendship builds out of the respective needs to be more popular or admired, not out of honesty and love.
I couldn’t get attached to them during the novel and I don’t care enough about their future to read on.

Why was My Brilliant Friend successful

I think that part of the success of the book is due to the huge international appeal it had, as we Italians tend to appreciate what we have only when we can look at it from a foreign perspective.
I am not surprised that foreigners have appreciated it. They normally read very little nice things about Italians, so seeing a sort of normality represented must have been a good breath of fresh air.
As an Italian though, as someone who knows that Italy is not all pizza, mandolino, and mafia, I found in Ferrante’s novel a nice story, but certainly not “brilliant”.

Am I really alone?

After finishing the book, I searched online for other reviews and it seems like I’m the only one who didn’t like the novel. Am I really alone? Have I misinterpreted something? Should I go on with the other novels?

What is the character that you despise the most in literature? Are there novels that you quit because of annoying characters?

Elena Feresin

Categories: BooksItalian Books


jane · December 22, 2023 at 1:30 am

I agree, it wasn’t my cup of tea either. Like they call each other friends, but I know people like that in real life and I’ve never considered them friends, just people I pretend to tolerate in public

Joana · December 29, 2023 at 2:01 pm

Ohh, thank God you wrote this! I’m trying to read the second book of the series because it’s a friend’s favourite, and I just can’t stand them both. Their relationships and life are just so boring… and also are their goals. I’ll probably just drop the reading soon. But I’ll give Ferrante some credit, somehow her writing is kinda hypnotizing. Thanks for writing that!

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