MY BRILLIANT FRIEND
Translated by Ann Goldstein
Ms. Hen thought MY BRILLIANT FRIEND was brilliant. That could be the end of the review right there, but there’s so much more to say.
This novel is about two friends who live in a village outside of Naples in the 1950s, Lila and Elena. Elena is the narrator and we discover that she has always followed Lila. Lila is fearless and brilliant in school, even though she only finishes elementary school. Elena is the one who gets to continue her education, even though she always thought Lila was smarter.
Elena and the other girls in the village blossom before Lila, but Lila was the one who becomes the great beauty. Elena feels pale and fat beside Lila. The teacher tells Elena that Lila would not be beautiful for that long, but Elena would always have her brain. She didn’t like that, because she wanted to be beautiful.
Ms. Hen thought the beginning of this novel reminded her of ANGELA’S ASHES by Frank McCourt, because it is about poverty with humor gracing the narrative. But as the novel went on, it became more of a woman’s coming of age story. And it’s very Italian.
Boys are always screaming and fighting with each other, parents scream at their children and beat them, if a man looked at another man’s sister the wrong way he could get pummeled. This is not a delicate world where these character dwell. It’s a violent, passionate world, dominated by men and the drive for money.
It’s the rich characters everyone envies. Lila decides to marry a rich man who pays attention to her and is kind. The Solara brothers with their expensive car rule the neighborhood. Poverty is everywhere, but the ones with money are in control.
Elena and Lila are always friends, but when Lila is preparing for her wedding, Elena feels like she will lose her friend, since she will be ahead of her in life experiences. But Lila recruits Elena to help with the wedding preparations because she is good at dealing with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law to be. Elena is a skilled negotiator since she has spent so much time at school. Elena is honored that Lila asked her for help. Elena dreads the wedding because she knows Lila will not be hers anymore.
Ms. Hen loved this book and did not want it to end. When she read the ending, she was disgusted and thought, this is how it ends? How can that be? We don’t know what happens to Lila after she gets married!
But there are two more books in the series. Ms. Hen forgot that when she bought the book that there were others that followed. She was so relieved, she bought the second book right away. Ms. Hen read a review of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND that compared the series to IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME by Marcel Proust. Ms. Hen agrees because she was swept back in time to this character’s world, and it’s brilliant. Just brilliant.