My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: A Review

Read Around the World: Italy

Back in September I posted about how I wanted to start a Read Around the World project, something which has become very popular amongst readers and bloggers alike. The idea is that you read novels from each country around the world, written by a native to that country.

I decided an obvious place to start was Italy and a rather ‘of the moment’ author to chose was Elena Ferrante, who has claimed great acclaim for her Neapolitan Novels, the first of which, My Brilliant Friend, is just that…brilliant! I’m afraid I didn’t read it in Italian (this time!) but instead the wonderful translation by Ann Goldstein.

“Everyone should read anything with Ferrant’es name on it.” – The Boston Globe

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Set in post-war Naples it paints a vivid picture of a small very deprived but lively neighbourhood and its varied inhabitants and their everyday struggles and workings.  At the start of the book, I felt a little overwhelmed by the volume of characters introduced, like the start of a Dickens novel. There are (amongst other characters) 9 families and this being a novel set in Southern Italy, they are large households! For example The Sarratore Family, have 5 children! However by the end of the novel, through Ferrante’s inimitable writing style, each character had come to life and I could see them wandering around the sun drenched Neapolitan town! They had got into my head and on occasions under my skin!

The novels are centred around the friendship between Lila Cerullo, daughter of the shoemaker and Lenù Greco, daughter of the porter. Narrated by Lenù, the novels follow them from childhood to adulthood and capture all the struggles and triumphs of these two girls. We begin with Greco as an adult finding out that Lila has gone missing and then the story takes us back to them as children. Their story is a friendship built on curious dynamics and sees their paths in life continuously diverge and converge. In a town filled with violence and uproar the girls come to depend upon one another more than anyone else.

“I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence….Life was like that, that’s all, we grew up with the duty to make it difficult for others before they made it difficult for us.” – My Brilliant Friend

Ferrante captures and reflects through these two girls, the monumental changes that took place in post war Italy, but it still remains relate-able to a modern reader. She casts light on the struggles and darker side of female relationships, showing how women are shaped by social expectations and can also be contorted and ruined  by these and their surroundings. She addresses many issues including adolescence, sexuality, education and  marriage. Ferrante manages to talk about many different stages of adolescence, which perhaps could be dismissed as being insignificant and petty, but puts them at the centre stage and gives them importance.

“Instead of consolidating and making exclusive the relationship between her and me, it attracted a lot of other girls. ..I saw her talking now with this girl, now with that…and they made me suffer.” – My Brilliant Friend

What I really enjoyed about My Brilliant Friend, was the way it goes inside the narrators head and shares with the reader her inner thoughts, fears and hopes. It paints such an intricate picture of the people in her life and her struggles and triumphs. She seems a very rational character and I often felt sympathy for her, but at the same time occasionally found her irrational and frustrating. Ferrante’s style of writing is wonderfully descriptive and truly transports you to 1950’s Naples, but the often unspoken truths she reveals about friendship are applicable, I am sure, to most readers. The contradiction of Lenù and Lila’s feelings of jealousy and pride in one another. I’m sure most people can say they have experienced something of a similar nature, especially when young children.

I am now reading the second in the series The Story of a New Name and it is just as “brilliant” as My Brilliant Friend! I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to start reading some Ferrante, she is fast becoming one of my favourite authors! If you need any further encouragement, Ferrante has also just been short listed for the Man Booker International award for the final book in the series The Story of the Lost Child.

One final note, I have been saying ‘she’ in reference to Ferrante, but we can not be sure about this as the novels are written under pseudonym, many believing they must be autobiographical. I don’t think it really matters and for me adds a sort of mystery and allure to the novels, however for someone to be able to write so accurately and beautifully about female friendship I think “she” must be the correct pronoun!

What do you think? Have you read My Brilliant Friend? What is your opinion?

I would love to hear.

Anna

The Perfect Day for Seeing Rainbows

I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas, spent with family and friends! I certainly did and am glad to say I am getting acclimatised to the British weather again. I am spending this Christmas limbo before New Year, catching up with people, reading, watching films and going for long walks with the dog…just perfect!

This afternoon we had a rather delightful walk on the beach and were surprised by the most stunning double rainbow stretching peacefully across the River Stour. It appeared rather faintly during a quick shower, then grew brighter and brighter until two perfect rainbows appeared! Below are some of my pictures from today, hope you enjoy them!

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At its strongest and brightest! Although my photos don’t really do justice to how beautiful the rainbows were!

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Anna

Some pre-Christmas Musings

Despite it being one of the warmest winters on record in a long time, I am finding England rather cold and extremely windy. This, I am taking as a sign, that after three and a half years living in Milan, I am starting to be “Italianised”! Yesterday on a last minute Christmas present run, I found myself on more than one occasion pointing out people to my Mum and saying, ‘That is ridiculous, why is she dressed like that? It is Winter!’, about the girl in a skirt (no tights) and boots, a man in a t-shirt and jeans and a little girl in the garage in leggings and a sleeveless summer dress! The people of England have gone mad! It is worse than when they wear shorts and t-shirts and it is only 16 degrees out! My Mum merely replied, ‘Anna it is hot! It isn’t cold at all!’

I remember the first year I lived in Milan and I wore ballerinas in November without socks and got told off by more than one person and wore just a light rain coat up until mid December – but gone are those days. Yesterday I was wearing boots, a thick jumper, a big warm coat buttoned up to the top and a scarf wrapped round me and I was still cold! However, a down fall of my supposed “Italianisation”, is that I seem to be sick more often. I don’t know if the two things are connected, but I am suffering my third cold in the last two months, despite being wrapped up warm and eating well to keep up my defences.

We finally put the Christmas tree up at home a few days ago, so things are starting to feel all cosy and festive! Many people in England put up their decorations very early, even in November, but in my family it is tradition that we put them up later and as a child, I only saw our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve! Some of my friends think this is strange and say it is a waste, but I disagree and think it makes it much more special! Especially since I have German heritage and so as a child, we celebrated as a family with Christmas dinner on the 24th, so there was always great anticipation and excitement in the house on Christmas Eve morning.

Christmas Tree

England is the country that already has Christmas decorations and treats on sale even before Halloween is over and Easter eggs on sale as early as February. I guess this is now normal in the consumerist society we live in, but I will say in Italy it does seem to be much more subtle. Yes, the shops have Christmas products available around the end of November, but in Milan people wait to put up their trees until they celebrate Sant’Ambrogio, the Patron Saint of Milan, on the 7th of December. Of course the shops are busy in the run up to the festive season, but it seems less chaotic and panicky!

At home, everywhere you go there is that last minute rush to buy loved one gifts and Christmas songs blaring from radios and the smell of baking in the air. Lights shining from Christmas trees and blow up Santa’s and snowmen in gardens! Plus supermarkets are filled with panic buying shoppers, filling up their trolleys with supplies as if we won’t be able to buy any groceries for a month, when in actual fact, the shops are only closed for one day! It does make me smile, even though I was there too!

So, whether you are celebrating the season or not, spending it at home or away, in the sun or the cold, with family or friends, I wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Anna

 

A Glorious Autumn

Hello everyone!

Firstly I must apologise for not having written for a while! I really want to get into a better routine and get myself organised so I am posting more regularly, but still being fairly new to blogging, I have some work to do on this! I have been really busy with work and finding a new apartment, which I am very excited about and moving into in the next few weeks, so plenty of packing and organising and best of all…shopping to do!

Last weekend I went back to England for my Mum’s ‘special’ birthday! So Happy Birthday again Mum for last week, you are amazing!  I am so glad I got to be there to share it with her and my family! We had a delicious meal last Sunday in a beautiful restaurant called The Barn Brasserie, a very elegant barn conversion.  Lunch was accompanied by some stunning piano pieces played live by a very talented young musician – she played all sorts including pieces by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Daria Marianelli, who wrote the soundtrack to the film version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley. It was truly a wonderful weekend, if a little too short!

In recent weeks I have become slightly obsessed with taking photos of trees, streets, parks, gardens and any green spaces I see! Is it me, or we having one of the most amazing Autumns ever? I can’t remember being so enticed by the colours and sights of Autumn before. Everyday seems to be more splendid than the last and I find myself really appreciating the colours of the nature around me.

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Norfolk, England

Driving home from the airport last weekend, my father and I kept remarking on all the different shades of oranges, yellows and reds lining the roadside and here in Milan I have even seen trees in tones of pinks and purples! Whenever possible I love walking through the park and crunching through the piles of leaves underfoot.

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Parco Sempione, Milan

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My dog enjoying and exploring an orchard. Norfolk, England

I have always loved Autumn and Winter more than the other seasons. Of course I love to go to the beach and be out in the sun, but I find there is something quite restorative about the Autumn. Maybe it is because we start school/university/new jobs at the end of Summer, beginning of Autumn. For me it always seems a period of possibility and change, much more than the Spring or Summer.

The thing I find annoying about Autumn, is the period when it isn’t quite hot enough any more in the morning to not wear a cover-up or cardigan, but by midday you are too hot, then come five o’clock you are cold again! I wake up and find myself changing outfits between the morning and afternoon! However, once the really cold weather hits, I am ridiculously happy! I love wearing winter boots, coats and big scarves! Here in Milan I have over ten different coats and  in England I have about the same again! My Winter wardrobe is much more extensive than my Summer one.

I also love Winter food, my Mum’s leek and stilton soup, goulash, stews, jacket potatoes, roast dinners, blackberry and apple crumbles! Real wholesome, hearty food! Then of course with Autumn and Winter comes Harvest, Guy Fawkes Night, Halloween, Advent and then best of all Christmas – where there is nothing better than walks in the crisp cold with the dog and coming back home to a cup of tea and a real fire crackling away with the Christmas tree lit up in the corner! I love being inside the house all wrapped up and warm and outside there’s a slight frost in the air.

I am getting carried away and all dreamy again…back to Autumn. Who else is enjoying the beautiful Autumn we seem to be having this year?  Let me know what it is like where you are, I would love to hear/see! I hope you enjoy my pictures – all of which I have added no filters to – the colours speak for themselves!

Giardino Valentino Bompiani

Giardino Valentino Bompiani, Milan

Giardino Valentino Bompiani

Giardino Valentino Bompiani, Milan

 

Anna

Il Campanile di San Marco

One of the things I highly recommend when visiting Venice, is to go up to the top of the Campanile di San Marco.  The bell tower standing opposite the Basilica in Piazza San Marco, began its’ life as a watchtower in the 9th Century and was transformed into a bell tower in the 12th century. Other the years, it has suffered various forms of damage from lightning and earthquakes, including a fire in 1489, which seriously damaged its wooden spire. The bell tower took on the form we recognise now, only in the 16th century.

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Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture from further away! So you can’t see the very top of the tower!

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The amazing Iron gates of the bell tower, with the Palazzo Ducale in the background.

It features a solid square brick tower, topped by the belfry which houses five bells, on top of which is a cube, with alternate faces showing the Lion of St Marc and La Giustizia, a female representation of Venice. On top of the cube is a pyramidal spire, with a gilded statue of the Archangel Gabriel holding a lily, completing the tower.  The tower stands at 98.6 metres (323 ft) tall and is 12 metres (39 ft) wide. There is a lift which takes you to the bells and the viewing platform. There you have 360 degree views of Venice!

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The five bells of the Campanile, each had a different purpose!

The five bells of the Campanile, were each rung to mark different occasions, although all were tuned to the Scale of A.  The largest Marangona, was rung to mark the beginning and end of the working day; the Nona, sounded at midday; the Trotteria, called members of the Maggior Consiglio to council meetings, the Mezza Terza, signalled a session of the Senate and the Renghiera or Maleficio, announced executions!

After the tower had taken on its final form (between 1511 and 1514) it stood proudly in the square and became a landmark of Venice. However, on the morning of July 14th 1902, cracks started to appear in the bell tower, which quickly spread and before long the tower had crumbled to the floor, leaving only a pile of rubble! The way the tower fell caused very little damage to any other buildings in its vicinity, and I read that the only fatality was the caretakers cat! Poor thing!  The Campile, which had become a landmark of the city and known world over, was rebuilt in less than a decade to its original design, height and width and was reopened on the 12th April 1912, supposedly exactly one thousand years after the foundations of the original tower had been laid!

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This plaque commemorates how Galileo Galilei demonstrated his telescope to the Duke of Venice Antonio Priuli on the 21st of August 1609.

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Here you can see the Duke’s Palace to the right and the top of the Basilica di San Marco on the left.

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Piazza San Marco – which was slightly flooded when we visited!

The views from the top are magnificent and truly worth the queues! Wrap up warm though…as it gets really quite windy up there!! And make sure you don’t forget your camera!

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Here we are looking very happy to be re-united in Venice – just slightly windswept and cold!!

Anna

A Weekend in Venice

I consider myself very lucky that I have been able to visit Venice on a number of occasions, a few times just for the day and a couple of times for the weekend! But I find that every time I go, I discover something new and find beauty and magic in the city. Whether it be visiting the Basilica, stumbling upon a second hand bookshop – stuffed to the brim with quirky and unusual books or going for a Venetian Rowing lesson, there is always some new adventure to be had or something to be experienced.

Last weekend was no exception! I met my friend on the Saturday at Casa Caburlotto, a Convent situated very close to the main railway station, where we would be staying. The convent is run by the Suore Figlie di San Giuseppe del Caburlotto and we had found it on the website Monastery Stays, which my father has seen written about in the Guardian and suggested we checked out.  Expecting all the properties to be completely booked up at such short notice, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Casa Caburlotto had availability!  Monastery Stays, may not be for everyone, but I found it perfect for our weekend in Venice. The rooms were very simple, but extremely clean, with excellent, friendly staff and the  breakfast was typical of Italian hotels -croissants, cereal, bread, cake, yoghurt, coffee and juices! There was a small chapel and a pretty inner courtyard.  It was only half an hour walk to Piazza San Marco, which was great as we didn’t have to take any water taxis or ferry’s the whole weekend! The only thing is there was a curfew of midnight, but for us that was fine, as we were exhausted from all the walking – after which, I slept so well! It was very peaceful at the Convent and had a lovely calm atmosphere!

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Casa Caburlotto, built in the 17th Century – the congregation was established in 1850 and founded by Monsignor Luigi Caburlotto.

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The building had really interesting heads on the exterior…all slightly weird and wonderful!

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The garden area was very tranquil and tended to by the Nuns. I wish I had taken more pictures inside the Convent, but you can check some more out on the Monastery Stays website.

Saturday we spent wandering around Venice, getting lost and discovering tiny streets and pretty bridges, as well as amazing macaroon and chocolate shops!  We ate extremely well over the weekend and found on both the Saturday and Sunday, lovely restaurants filled with Italians (which is always a good sign) away from the main tourist areas. On Sunday we went up the Campanile di San Marco for some amazing photo opportunities and visited the Ca’Rezzonico, a museum of 18th Century Venice, set in a beautiful palace with some of the most incredible chandeliers I have ever seen! I will be sharing photos from both of these later in the month, as well as my top tips for visiting the city!

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The houses in Venice have strange and intriguing door knockers! Keep an eye out for them…I have spotted all sorts, heads, lions…

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This boat yard was opposite a great place we found for a glass of prosecco and crostini, which are pieces of bread topped with delicious things, such as aubergine and smoked cheese, pesto with mozzerella and tomato or smocked mackerel! It was packed with Venetians and was super cheap, I’m talking €2.50 a glass of prosecco! Look out for Osteria Alsquero!

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Have you visited Venice? Did you discover any hidden gems?  What did you think about the city? I would love to hear!

Anna

 

Meet me in Venice…

How can you refuse when a friend asks you to meet them in Venice? You simply cannot and so I find myself heading there for the weekend, rather spontaneously! We decided I think on Sunday evening! My friend, whom I lived with whilst at University, is living in Dubai, but has popped over to Europe for the week and as our meet ups are now spread so far apart from one another, they are even more special! So I am super excited!

This will be my second trip to the city this year, as I went to meet another friend from University there in March, when we ended up going for a Venetian Rowing lesson which you can read about here and I attended a talk by Art Historian and presenter of the BBC’s Italy Unpacked Andrew Graham-Dixon. The talk you can also read about here.

I am not sure what we have planned for this weekend, but I am sure we will end up having an adventure or two! The first, shall be finding one another…I don’t think I have ever visited Venice, without getting a little lost!

I am looking forward to my train journey as I can read some more of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, which is the first book I am reading for my Read Around the World feature! More to come on that soon, but you can read my first post here and I am still looking for suggestions of other books, from each country around the world! So let me know if you have any!

For now, I must pack, as I am prone to leaving things to the last minute! Only thing is, I am at a loss as to what to take! This week has been a disaster weather wise, Wednesday was 13 degrees, stormy and rainy (I even wore wellies!), Thursday and Friday 23 degrees and sunny! It makes my head spin all this weather changing…but the forecast says it should be nice, so fingers crossed!

Have a great weekend everyone!

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A picture I took of San Marco from the water taxi back in March

Anna