My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

When I was seven my father disowned his family. It was, he explained at the time, because he did not want us to be raised in the culture of violence and ignorance that made his family what it was. Although from the stories I heard from him, I had some picture in my mind of what that meant, it was really only upon reading this series that I have a clear sense of what we escaped. In fact, my father’s family is Calabrian from the area where John Paul Getty III was held after being kidnapped. Far more violent than the pussy Neapolitans.

So, on a personal level what I got from this was an inkling of what my life might have been like, had my father not made that decision. The culture is violent, the people, all relationships on all levels. The language is not violent, it is violence. That is the purpose of dialect, to express violence and threats and anger and powerlessness and vitriol and abuse.  It is a weapon. Having read these books and lived through the sometimes terrifying behaviour of my father I wonder whether it is learned or genetic. I do so hope it isn’t something I can’t undo in me.

I felt part Elena so often I stopped counting. Not just because my father, despite his best intentions, could not save us entirely from this life because he could not save us from himself, but for so many decisions she made as a child, growing up, and then as an adult. It’s an excruciatingly painful business, watching a person in a book do incredibly idiotic things as she does in her personal relationships all the time, knowing that one has done them all with no better capacity to explain than this series does.  How could she have got involved with Nino, even as a teenager, let alone as an adult. The only thing that makes me realise that it is permissible within the constraints of the book is that I’ve done the same stupid, stupid things.

I was unable to put down the first volume until I’d finished it. The most fantastic end to a book I’ve ever read by the way, and endings are impossibly hard to do. Two weeks in Melbourne, back to Adelaide and I discover that there is one shop where I can buy them. Imprints Booksellers, thank you! I bought the other three volumes and read them back to back over the course of a week. Does one need a review after that statement? A friend in Melbourne who is an Italian literature academic started reading the first and called up uni to say she wouldn’t be in that week. Unputdownable does not in the slightest exaggerate the effect of these.

Peter at East Avenue Books put me onto this series. It’s a secondhand bookshop in Clarence Park specialising in literature – if you live in Adelaide you must go there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

  1. have you read any of ferrante’s other novels, like “lost daughter”? ive read that she writes the same novel over and over, and over. but i thought lost daughter thrilling and scary and sick and enlightening. and standing apart /alone from brilliant friend IIII
    just wondering

    • Yes, David, we’ve had a bookshop – well, not a physical shop anymore – since the mid seventies! Now I am curious to know why you ask?

      • You named two bookshops in the review, which reminded me your fondness for books, and the shops that hold them. I think you mentioned the family shop a few times, perhaps back when the Amazon steamroller roller through.

        I hope you had a good boxing day.

        • One thing I love about Adelaide is that there are still bookshops here. It is no coincidence that East Ave Books is a few minutes’ walk from where we are staying. All our Christmas presents this year were books from Adelaide shops, mainly secondhand. I shall be very sad when they have all disappeared.

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