A modern masterpiece from one of Italy's most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila, who represent the story of a nation and the nature of friendship.
The story begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets, the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow - and as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge - Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists.
With My Brilliant Friend, the first in a series, Ferrante proves herself to be one of Italy's greatest storytellers. She has given her readers a masterfully plotted pause-resister, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations - a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new listeners to her work.
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"Hillary Huber's subtly shaded performance couldn't be better as she reveals the complexities that separate and connect the two women.... Huber's delivery of this well-plotted, absorbing story of friendship will leave listeners wanting more." (AudioFile)
Hillary Huber settles into the story very comfortably, with distinctive voices for the characters and excellent pronunciations of Italian words. My Brilliant Friend explores the mundane and the riveting elements of everyday life with literary precision.
Lila is a character that invokes a deep love-hate relationship for both the reader and Elena. She is both my favorite, and least favorite due to her complex contradictions. At times - the tone in which she was depicted by Hillary Huber was bordering on irritating, however this felt intentional as a tone intercepted by the narrator.
Hillary Huber portrayed all the subtlety of Elena's tone and regard of events as they changed with her growth and changing maturity.
Yes - I listened to it over only a few days. I listened to it at work, in the car, making dinner - wherever I got the chance! The story reads (or, listens) like a classic Russian novel with a complicated, yet deeply woven web of characters that unfold throughout the story.
Ferrante seems like the "it" writer of the moment, so I gave this a shot because so many are talking about her. Expecting greatness -- maybe a Nobel candidacy -- I came into this in a demanding mood, and it mostly delivered. In its way, it's a "small" novel, a story that's confined to a handful of characters trapped in the same small neighborhood.
That claim hardly does it justice, though. It's rich in characterization and hunger, and it's a coming-of-society story as much as it is a coming-of-age one. I'm weak on my post-War Italy history, but it's clear that the protagonist is growing into adulthood just as Italy is shaking off the legacy of World War II. There's some explicit talk of building a new society, of forgetting the trajectory of the old ways, and then there are some powerful descriptions of how difficult it is to become someone other than your parents' child.
In the same way, I find this a striking feminist novel, too. The narrator's friendship with Lila is powerful and interesting. They're "frenemies" as much as best friends, and each undercuts the other's ambitions and hopes as often as she supports them. It's a great glimpse, as a male, at the very different dynamic that I've heard my wife and others describe in some of their friendships.
So, I love all that, but there are a few downsides.
First, the narrative is quiet and slow. I found I got hungry for more events, even small ones, but much of what happens is anticipation. Again, that's clever, but I'd like to have seen it culminate in more than it does.
Second, and this may be the same point from a different angle, it doesn't really end. That is, the next book in the cycle seems less a sequel than a continuation. I'm tempted to read it -- I am interested enough in the characters to want to know what becomes of them -- but I'm also ready (for now at least) for a change of pace.
So, on balance, I like this a lot and reserve the right to love it after I get to see more of what follows.
Yes, Ferrante is that good. Everyone who was ever a girl, particularly one born before 1960, should read this book ..... That is, anyone who has been admired as pretty and has felt ugly; anyone who is the apple of a parent's eye and has been misunderstood by one; anyone who has been praised by a teacher and has been demeaned by one; anyone who has excelled and has failed; anyone who has used a boyfriend or girlfriend and has been used by one; anyone who has exceeded her potential and hasn't. Need I go on?
Ferrante has her pulse on what it has meant to become a woman (and live as one in later volumes) in a post-WWII western world, constrained by society (family, friends, neighborhood) and resources (usually limited); in this case, the subject just happens to live in Naples, Italy.
No matter that the narrator may have (did she?) mispronounced Italian words and the names Lila / "Lena"/ Elena get mixed up ... Her voice embodies the intimate world view that the author intended.
No matter whether or not you were a girl .... You are human aren't you? ... Read it.
In this mesmerizing narrative about the friendship between two girls in a working class district of Naples, the author examines the influences of wealth, education, history and revenge on the social strata of the town and explores how the hunger for freedom expresses itself differently in each character.
Ms. Ferrante's ability to capture the generational mood & nuance of that period of time while at the same time interweaving timeless elements (ie, rites of passage, etc) is phenomenal. The story is just as compelling in English as in Italian.
The performance was great as well, The few, minor pronunciation slips (occasionally substituting "Leye-la" for "Lee-la") were totally eclipsed by the narrator's fantastic ability to consistently give each character their own credible voice.
I look forward to seeing more of Ms. Ferrante's books on Audible! Maybe someday the original Italian versions could be made available as well.
People who enjoy reading insubstantial magazine stories and watching soap-operas; not people seeking a thought-provoking book with penetrating insights
Yes and no. I read in their entirety the first three books, largely on the strength of a strong recommendation from a thoughtful friend whose tastes I usually share. I persisted only because of her--if she thought so highly of this series, I must be missing something.I reached the end of Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay Behind this morning, and that's it for me.
1. The reader lacks nuance entirely. She should have varied her intonation according to context. In every case of disputatious conversation--to give just one example-- her voice dripped with sarcasm. It was the same throughout the three volumes, yet not every such conversation entailed sarcasm! 2.This gave me the strong impression that she had not read the books before performing them: she was just not engaged. She should read and engage with her material before recording it, otherwise the performance is flat and unconvincing. 3. If the reader is performing a book set in Italy, should have learned how to pronounce the few Italian (and, later German) words that came up.
I'm at a loss to say, because the first book sets us up to anticipate that by the end of the saga, we will have learned something interesting and perhaps profound about Lila and Lena. Along the way, a good writer would give us clues about what she has in mind in that regard. But the characters of the two protagonists (ARE they protagonists? I thought so in the first book, but it became less clear thereafter)--and the characters of the others, no less--are undeveloped. Motivations, time after time, are implausible or unintelligible or illogical. One has no sense where this writer is leading us.
I wondered frequently whether I would have liked the book better if the reader had been better. I don't think so: in addition to my dissatisfactions noted above, I have to add that the translation is uninspired. Every character uses the same set of words and expressions. "Chiaro?" in Italian is ploddingly translated, time and again, as "Is that clear?" This is not always exactly idiomatic in context.Very disappointing: author, translator, reader.
As long as I have my Audible, I'm content.
This one was a bit slow and I guess I got tired of the inner dialogue of the young girl worried about her body and looks in comparison to her friends all the time. Realistic, yes. Interesting, no. There were also far too many references to the scores she got in school. The unnecessary repetition of insecurities and doubts, and of her thoughts on Lila had me thinking, "yeah, yeah, get on with it already!" several times. I think I may have liked this one better as a read rather than a listen. The narrator's voice, while pleasant, gets a bit monotonous after awhile. In spite of not particularly liking the book, I am rather curious about what comes in the next one. The book begins with the son of Lila calling Elena to tell her that his 66 year old mother has disappeared, so Elena goes on to tell the story of their lives to us, the readers. I kind of wish the author had just done it all in one long book rather than in four.
After listening to My Brilliant Friend, I won't listen to the sequels. I didn't enjoy the narrator, who repeatedly mispronounced the name of one of the main characters: Leela? Lyla? Lola? Come on now!!! (In the author's defense, friends who READ the book enjoyed it more than I did LISTENING to it.)
There are so many wonderful reviews for this series so decided to give it a try. For me, it just didn't work. The story was a very slow and detailed but at the same time sketchy look at life from a child's perspective. The reader was plodding and had an edge to her voice that was almost sarcastic? The whole thing just seemed off to me. I was never engaged or caught up in the story being told. It's hard for me to pinpoint the issue as either writing or narration. In the end, probably a bit of each. Can't recommend.
eclectic taste - love crime fiction, literary fiction, English history, chick lit, kids' books
I was about two-thirds into reading this book on my Kindle when I downloaded the audio. I just was not into the story or the writing, despite all the positive reviews. Hillary Huber's excellent narration rejuvenated my interest and now I am eager to read the next in the series! She has excellent rhythym, cadence, delivery, tone.
"The plebs were us"
"The plebs were that fight for food and wine,the quarrel over how should be served first and better, that dirty floor on which the waiters clattered back and forth, those incredible vulgar toasts. The plebs were my mother, who had drunk wine and now was leaning against my father's shoulder, while he, serious, laughed, his mouth gaping, at the sexual allusions."
Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend
I start with that quote to dissipate any ideas that this book is a romance novel or a thriller, it is about people, poor people with a restricted point of view, fighting for scraps among themselves, people for whom the world is their neighborhood, the street they inhabit, is about the love, the hate, the jealousies, the minutia of of life, the binds of society on individuals life, it is about two little girls that reinvent themselves by caring for each other by competing with each other, by regarding each other's brilliance and outshining themselves.
This is not a romanticized view of this lives, this is the nitty gritty of everyday life, were love, money and sex are commodities, chess pieces to win better lives opportunities, This is a place where fourteen year old girls are planning a woman's life, and they are lucky if they do not give birth till they are seventeen.
This is not the Naples of tourists, this where the shadowy camorra has its roots, violence is part of life and is never far, a place where education is an impossible expense. A place where even dreams are as dangerous, as intelligent girls.
“Her quickness of mind was like a hiss, a dart, a lethal bite.”
Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend
Beautifully written realism of a period, a place and a culture, a reconstruction of what most would like to ignore, the common lives of the common people, as they are, with small achievements, that hide heroic struggles, especially for women. This is not a book with big gestures, it is insular, a portrait with limited panorama like the view of the children it describes.
“Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this, this is Mamma, this is Papa, this is the day, this the night.”
― Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend
“We were twelve years old, but we walked along the hot streets of the neighborhood, amid the dust and flies that the occasional old trucks stirred up as they passed, like two old ladies taking the measure of lives of disappointment, clinging tightly to each other. No one understood us, only we two—I thought—understood one another.”
― Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend
"An Amazing Quarter"
I would, and frequently do, wholeheartedly recommend Elena Ferrante to friends. Reading EF is a totally immersive experience. The writing is wonderful without being self-conscious.
Probably Lina's wedding night.
Lina. Lina was my favourite friend. Hilary Huber got her tone just right.
These are truly wonderful books. Weeks after reading them I am still in that Neapolitan neighbourhood, surrounded by squalor and violence to witness the palpable yearning of two little girls whose ambitions could not be contained within its boundaries.
I'm now reading them, and savouring them all over again.
"A brutally honest account of growing up in Naples"
This book has found a place in my top 10 audiobooks. It is a story of friendship, told from the point of view of Lenu, she tells about her, and her best friend Lila's childhood, the harsh life they had growing up in Naples in the 1950s and their relationship to one another, each of them is defined by the other.
I started reading the book for a book group and downloaded the audio book as I was busy at the time and wasn't sure I would finish the book in time, so thought I'd be able to cram the story into any spare gaps with the audiobook. Very quickly the book fell by the wayside and I found myself listening to the audiobook for long stretches.
The authors style is nothing I have previously encountered, her prose is spare at a time when most novels tends towards the poetic. The narration is in keeping with the style of the story and is never overly dramatic. The Italian pronunciation was a highlight for me. This may make the story sound boring but in fact the opposite is true, it was refreshing to have the story told frankly and without frills, as if a friend were telling you the story of their life. I think this is part of the reason why so many people love this book.
Add to this the mystery of the author, who has chosen to remain anonymous. There is even some speculation that the author may be a man, although I doubt this, given the inherent underlying feminist principles adopted in the story telling.
I was very sad when this finished but delighted to know that the story continued with the next book, "Story of a New Name".
In summary, this is a book that you will either love or hate. I hope like me, you love it.
"My Brilliant friend"
Brilliant story l can't wait to read the next book. I did find the American narrator difficult to get used to initially but she grew on me by the end. I wish the chapters corresponded however
Coming of age tale set in 1950s Naples; think of Glasgow tenements on the Mediterranean.
The American narrator could have resigned her commission and handed over to an Anglo-Italian.
"Reasonable story spoilt by poor narration"
I quite enjoyed the story, setting and what must be the authentic perspective of this book. However it was definitely too lengthy and could have done with a more assertive editor. I also wondered how good the translation was as sometimes the language just didn't flow smoothly. I have listened to many audio books and generally am very impressed by the narrators and their abilities to create unique voices for each of the characters. This narrator was very weak, I ended up listening on a slightly higher speed to make her voice less monotonous. Worst of all though were the mispronounciations - surely it is easy to clarify a word you are unure of? Worst of all, changing the pronunciation of the main character's name at random points is inexcusable!
"Couldn't finish it"
American narrator inevitably fails to give a good voice to 1950s Naples. Story very stretched out - not one if you like your novels to have a bit more plot.
"Audible version so boring"
The voice reading this story does not come across as the slightest bit Italian. The slow southern drawl is so irritating - I can't stand it any longer!
"Loved this book!"
I enjoyed this so much that I am immediately buying the next in the series. Beautifully written female characters. Loved it.
"21 minutes in -so bored I switched off"
I only downloaded this book as we are discussing it in our book club. I have stopped listening as I still have to read the wretched thing and am wondering if it is the distraction of the dull as ditchwater narration that is putting me off. I need to go back to 'the source' to find out. If you like the tedious, self -conscious pretentiousness of Proust, where nothing actually happens except a clever writer writing in a clever manner and you have literally nothing better to do with your life, then this might be the book for you! I found it an utterly sterile experience.
I certainly wont be voting to read the rest of the series on the basis of this audio experience. I hope the physical version is more appealing.
Is this a 'genre' book then? Some sort of fluff to appeal to us ladies?
Almost anyone. I did find it distinctly odd to listen to an Italian Novel read by an American. Worse still, she sounds as bored as I felt. Paint by numbers narration.
Pretty much all the tedious first 20 minutes. I can't remember any of the characters names and I don't care what happens to any of them. I fear where this book is going, as we are being tempted (obviously not very tempted in my case) to wonder why an old woman has chosen to disappear and we are still back at the narrator's reminiscences of their school encounters. This might be desperately unfair. I might like it when I read it, but at the moment I don't care what happens, at all.
Think that says it all. I do hope the book is better or I am going to have to find serious reserves of tact to engage with the person who chose this book for book club ;-)
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