Why do I put off reading books which come with a great many excellent recommendations? Is it some residue from my adolescent self, standing firm against the coercion of the group?
Probably something as stupid as that.
Well, I’m glad I overcame that foolishness when it came to picking up this much lauded, discussed and recommended novel, which is the first in a series of novels by that strangely secretive author.
My Brilliant Friend doesn’t grab you by the throat and demand to be read. It is far too self-possessed for that. This is a story told with quiet precision, a story which unfolds effortlessly, placing you firmly in the setting, the outskirts of Naples, introducing you to two very different little girls who become friends before your eyes. Surrounding them is cast of fully realised characters, with backstories and heartbeats, who continue to live richly even when not directly part of the narrative, their stories continuing offstage, as it were.
There is something uniquely compelling about this cool approach. This is a story which seems to declare – I don’t need you, dear reader, to exist.
(By the way, I call balderdash on those who claim that these books are better suited to a female audience).
My Beautiful Friend
The Neapolitan Novels: Book 1
by Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (Translator)
The story of Elena and Lila begins in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. The two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, sometimes to their own detriment, as each discovers more about who she is and suffers or delights in the throes of their intense friendship.
There is a piercing honesty about Ferrante’s prose that makes My Brilliant Friend a compulsively readable portrait of two young women, and also the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country.
My Brilliant Friend is a ravishing, wonderfully written novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.