Elena Ferrante’s Italian language novel My Brilliant Friend strikes a strong note in the well-traveled genre of Bildungsroman, or coming of age novels. Ferrante’s novel weaves a strong sense of place, Naples after the Second World War, with stellar, on point character development to form a novel that is nearly perfect in its pitch and tone.
The novel does not degenerate into a detailing of the “exotic” other. Nor does it tumble into the pitfalls of coming of age novels, with their mawkish sentiments and set piece sexual scenes. No, through Ferrante’s narrator Lelu, a bookish, hardworking girl, and her magnetic attachment to Lila, another girl, equally smart and driven, we get a fully formed view of a time and a place.
Ferrante has written a fearless novel about a city and its children. Despite its universal reach, for anyone with southern Italian ancestry, the characters and situations will be (often disconcertingly) familiar.