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.
Oh, yes... I've read them all. Wasn't 100% sure I'd continue after the first one (my thumb was probably around 10:00, too), but decided to go on to book 2 several months later... this time as a read/listen combination. Something about Hilary Huber's narration made it click, so I immediately continued with book 3 (another read/listen combo)ReplyDelete
Finished book 3 several months before book 4 was released (the horror!) so I turned to Ferrante's backlist while I waited. Can't remember whether the second or third book was my favorite (it was one in the middle)... I'd even consider rereading the entire series one day.
I'll look forward to your thoughts on book 2! Had to laugh at your 'not at all what you'd expect Kay to read' description :D
I think I might have first heard them on your blog, JoAnn. I do remember you reading them all. I agree that Huber's narration was very good. And I'm actually through with all 4 of them. Review of #2 and bit about #3 and #4 will be posted in September.Delete
I've read several positive reviews of this series, but wasn't sure if I wanted to read it. So...now, I'm still not sure. :)ReplyDelete
Exactly how I felt after reading Kay's review!Delete
I think this is one of those books that you'd have to try and see if you like...like Mikey, right?Delete
I just think it is weird that the author is such a secret. I did buy the first one, and I expect I will read it, but it is not at the top of my list. I think I'm like you - just substitute my name for yours. Not one I would expect to read or like. Perhaps, I will also like it.ReplyDelete
It is weird about the author. That was big topic of discussion with the book group.Delete
I've seen a lot about this book so I'd like to give it a try.ReplyDelete
You might like it, Kathy. Not sure.Delete
Ha! Like you and some of your other commenters, I've also felt this quartet is probably not for me, but now you've got me wondering! I'll wait to hear what you think of book 2 and whether you're still inspired to continue...ReplyDelete
I actually did continue with it and listened to all 4 of them. Review of #2 won't be up until September. It's pretty much an Italian soap opera - in my view anyway.Delete
I love it when you get surprised by a book - I've just read one which I was really unsure that I'd enjoy but I did. You must have enjoyed this if you are now on to the next book already!ReplyDelete
It was a little addictive to me, but I was still surprised at how I 'needed' to finish it.Delete
I've heard good things about this one, but I'm still on the fence about it. I don't know if it's my kind of thing or not. I guess there's only one way to find out!ReplyDelete
Yes, I very much think it would be personal thing. Judging by the response from the book group, some liked it and some definitely did not.Delete
I've heard of this book but haven't read it. Although, it can be a nice surprise when you enjoy something you think is not really for you!ReplyDelete
Yes, I was certainly surprised that it kept my interest as much as it did. That might possibly be because I was listening to it - who knows?Delete
I was surprised that you read it. This is why I should be in a book club. To be forced to try books I avoid (but not too often). I am glad you found that you liked it.ReplyDelete
Well, maybe not forced. Ha! However, I do think it's a good thing to step outside of our comfort zone now and then to try a book. One never knows.Delete
I think I'm going to try this book based on your reaction. I like that first paragraph, so that's a good start. It's probably time for me to also step out of my comfort zone.ReplyDelete
Try and see what you think, Margot. You might like it and you might not. Your library will have it I'm sure.Delete
I am just not sure about these books. I don't like any of the covers and the mystery behind the author is kind of a bore. LOL.ReplyDelete
I was surprised that I ended up interested. And I agree about the covers.Delete
I'm intrigued that no one knows who the author is. I'm not sure if I'm good intrigued or bad intrigued but I'm definitely intrigued! I've been on the fence about this one but I think I'll give it a try. I know my library has a copy so it's risk free!ReplyDelete
Risk free - yes, you might try it and see what you think.Delete
I tried listening to this one, but just couldn't get interested. Very odd about the mystery of the author's identity!ReplyDelete
Yes, I thought that author identity thing was quite odd. And I understand about not being able to get interested. Several of the book group members had the same issue.Delete
My book club read this one, too. I have meant to get back to the series and own the second book but haven't gotten to it yet. I supposed I'd better get to it soon before I forget everything from the first one!ReplyDelete
I think it moves slowly enough that you could figure out what happened in the first one. It's a really long story.Delete
I read this one just this year and I did like but it was not quite what I expected. I was surprised at how mean so many of the characters were. I guess it was part of their survival skills but just not what I expected. I will give the second book a try eventually!ReplyDelete