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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend is the first of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, a series that received a lot of buzz this year. It is the story of the friendship of two girls, Elena and Lila, growing up in a poor  neighbourhood in Naples in the 1950s. The relationship is strong, competitive and intense. Elena, the narrator, is intelligent and beautiful but Lila is brilliant, more beautiful and charismatic. The neighbourhood is rife with family feuds, violence and brutal bullying. It's a rough life and the girls have to fight to achieve anything. Elena realizes early on that her way out is through education. She overcomes her family's opposition and writes exams that allow her to continue her studies while Lila is forced to drop out of school and work in her family's shoe repair shop. In adolescence their paths diverge but the girls remain loyal to each other. Lila also wants to escape the neighbourhood and her beauty attracts a wealthy suitor who may provide a better life. The novel ends with Lila's marriage at the age of sixteen. This is a straightforward story despite the neighbourhood's chaotic cast of characters and is written in a simple style. It's a good coming-of-age story that transcends the cliche but failed to live up to the crazy hype surrounding it. The ending was a bit of a cliffhanger so I will read the second volume.

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