My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
This morning Rino telephoned. I thought he wanted money again and I was ready to say no. But that was not the reason for the phone call: his mother was gone.
'Since two weeks ago.'
'And you're calling me now?'
My tone must have seemed hostile, even though I wasn't angry or offended; there was just a touch of sarcasm. He tried to respond but he did so in an awkward, muddled way, half in dialect, half in Italian. He said he was sure that his mother was wandering around Naples as usual.
'Even at night?'
'You know how she is.'
My Brilliant Friend is the first book in the Neopolitan Quartet, written by Elena Ferrante. No one actually know who this author is (or apparently not). The name is a pseudonym and she/he communicates only through email. It was the July selection for the afternoon book group that I attend most of the time. I remember several bloggers reading it some time back and it certainly has been popular with book groups. I wasn't at all sure I'd even try it, but I decided to make an attempt on audio (Hillary Huber narrates). I had gotten started late and suspected I wouldn't finish, but I got within an hour of the end (about 13 hours on audio). I did attend the discussion and it was a lively one.
You know, sometimes you think you won't be the right audience at all for a book and that was my suspicion with this one. However, somehow, it just worked for me. I have no idea why. It was a book that was liked by some of the book group and not liked by others. A couple of ladies really, really loved it and want to read on. Some were not at all interested and thought it was boring or too violent or too many characters. It is a translated book, so there may be some issues with the translation. From my perspective, it was obvious that the author meant for the story to be whole only when all four books in the quartet are read. This first book was only about Lila and Elena as young girls and teens. Parts got really slow, but there were underlying nuances. I kept thinking that this was a deep story. I would just need to be in the right frame of mind to decipher the themes.
We all shared a thumbs-up or down. My thumb was at about 10:00. I was asked if I would read on. I said - not sure. Well, I'm listening to the second book, The Story of a New Name, already. Guess I have my answer. More to come about this 'not at all what you'd expect Kay to read' quartet. Ha! Have you read any of these books?
Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.
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.