Book group – My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante is an Italian author with three previous novels; this one being the first of a series called the Neapolitan Novels. The book jacket claims she is one of Italy’s greatest storytellers. I looked forward to learning how the lives of the two main characters also told ‘the story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country undergoing momentous change.’

  1. Did you you find it noticeable that the language had been translated into English from the Italian original? Perhaps it was more noticeable as we began to read then became familiar? What specific wording or idioms stood out?
  2. What did you think of the main character’s declaration that she felt ‘no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence’? Did you find the scenes of women fighting with each other and men beating their families harrowing or typical of that time and place? How do men and women fall into the character’s stereotypical categories: ‘…men were always getting furious, they calmed down in the end; women, who appeared to be silent, acquiescent, when they were angry flew into a rage that had no end’?
  3. Why does Elena become infatuated with Lila? How does Elena’s perception of Lila affect her life’s path? Are either of the girls autonomous? How do they compete for superiority in various realms of life and who wins?
  4. Why do you think the author provides milestones in the story by stating things like, ‘then something momentous happened,’ or ‘during that period, things changed,’ or ‘as soon as that happened, I knew things would not be the same’? Do these help move the story along or give a sense of timing to the narrative?
  5. Who is the brilliant friend, Lila or Elena?
  6. How does climate play a role in the story? Do the hot temperatures of Naples affect the characters’ behaviour, perhaps reflecting fiery tempers? What impact do the weather descriptions have, such as ‘I went out into the heat that lay on the neighbourhood like a hand swollen with fever in that season …’ ?
  7. How does the relationship between Elena and Lila reflect Italy’s culture and society? What is Elena trying to express when she relates her learning about Greek writings with her life: ‘I associated it with our dirty streets, the dusty gardens, the countryside disfigured by new buildings, the violence in every house, every family’ ?
  8. What larger entities or concepts do Don Achille and the Solaras represent?
  9. The book cover includes a quote describing My Brilliant Friend as a ‘bildungsroman,’ which means a novel of formation, education or coming-of-age story. How does Ferrante’s story fit this definition?

My Brilliant Friend

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