My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante)

My Brilliant Friend is the first of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. I read the German translation (Meine geniale Freundin) by Karin Krieger.
Finished on: 15.10.2020

Plot:
Elena is in her 60s when she hears that her best childhood friend Lila has disappeared, leaving no trace. Elena starts to remember ther childhood and adolescence in a poor area of Naples in the 50s. Elena and Lila always had a rather complicated relationship, part competition, part incomprehension, completely different from each other, but unified in the certainty that the both of them are nothing like the kids around them. Between their families, the Camorra and just being a kid, it really isn’t easy to navigate life.

My Brilliant Friend is quite the bestseller and I have to admit that I don’t entirely get it. My experience with the novel was very mixed, some good parts, some not so good parts. I probably will continue reading, but I’m a little reluctant.

The book cover showing to girls from behind. They are looking from a balcony over the sea. They are wearing two dresses from the same cloth, so you can't tell where one ends and the other begins.

My Brilliant Friend has garnered a bit of a cult status around here. Everybody seems to have read. For some reason, I was convinced that it was a crime story and gave it a pass so far (crime just isn’t my thing usually), but when I realized that it wasn’t a crime novel, I figured I could give it a try. Especially since my colleagues at work were pretty divided about it, making me curious, and my mom had the books (and loved them).

All of this is to say that I approached the book a bit cautious, but optimistic. And that was what formed my reading impression of the first part of the book. It took me a while to get into it – I was always waiting for something a little more, though I couldn’t say what that “more” would have been.

Once I’d settled into the book, it remained a little uneven for me. There were parts where I was entirely engrossed in the story and the characters, and other parts where I was really pretty bored, where everything felt a tad too clichéd. I did like the relationship between Elena and Lila, but I felt that the book overcomplicated things: it’s really not that hard to understand the ambiguity in it, so when the book covered the same things again and again, I wished that it moved on a little quicker. Much to my own irritation, the book seemed to come most alive when it got into the romance parts – for a book that is centered on a (platonic) friendship between two girls, it’s pretty annoying when the inclusion of men spices things up a bit more.

The translation was also a little uneven, and there were parts with grammatical errors that made me wonder whether it was an oversight or whether the novel was partly written in Napolitan dialect and the book attempted to emulate that. I doubt that this was the case (as it happened to infrequently), though, and even if it was, they would have needed to make it more obvious.

There were definite moments where I was sure that I would stop reading the series after the first novel, but the ending was strong enough to make me curious again about how things would continue in the second novel. So, I’ll probably continue anyway, but still with a sense of caution.

Summarizing: Didn’t entirely win me over.

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