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

Musings on things to come…

Good morning to you all from (finally) a rather wintry, bitter cold Milan! Still no snow though! I am excited to get writing again this weekend and over the coming weeks and building my blog, which I think needs and deserves a little more of my time this year. Less procrastination and more productivity is definitely the key! We are all victims of this from time to time and I often more than others it would seem! But alas, I am full of ideas and determination, so lots of writing to do!

Including in the next couple of weeks a further post on my last trip to Venice, a book review and a focus on posts all about Milan, places to go, what to see, what to do!

For now, I leave you with a photo of the Bridge of Sighs – Ponte dei Sospiri – in Venice and will be back soon!

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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

 

Things I Love Sundays

With just under a week until Christmas, there is a lot of festive cheer in the air and I landed back in England yesterday afternoon to spend the next two weeks here in Essex with my family.  This time of year is perfect for giving thanks and being grateful for all we have, so the perfect opportunity to get back into writing my Things I Love feature.

So here is what has been making me smile recently…

 -New starts, new friends and my new apartment – Christmas lights all over Milan – Singing with my gospel choir – Laughing with friends – My dog waiting for me at the airport – ‘Driving home for Christmas’ listening to Chris Rea with my Dad – Home-made mince pies – Blazing fires and being warm and cosy – Dinner with friends – Catch-ups – The prospect of quality family and friend time – Cinema trip with my Mum to see The Lady in the Van, which I highly recommend, Dame Maggie Smith is such an incredible actress – Seeing stars in the sky (something I miss in Milan!) –

I would also like to say Happy 1st Wedding anniversary to my dear friends Kate and Chris!

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Spontini Christmas Tram in Milan! Why can’t all trams look like this!? It would be amazing!

Have a lovely Christmas week everyone!

Anna

Christmas Spirit and New Beginnings!

Oh dear! I have not done well at blogging recently…with almost a month between my two recent posts! But I am feeling really positive and excited for the future at the moment, what with all the Christmas spirit in the air and so many new opportunities and beginnings springing up, not only for me but my friends too!

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Here I am in Piazza Duomo, Christmas 2013! Photo credit: Anna S

I am sitting writing this in my new apartment! I moved last weekend and it is finally starting to feel homely as the boxes and suitcases slowly disappear (and I get an internet connection again!)  I consider myself a quite positive and chilled person, but I definitely found this move (my third in Milan) rather more stressful than I had imagined. Not the actual move (for which I am extremely thankful to my friend for all her help!) but for all the other admin and organisational stuff! However, It is the first time I have taken an unfurnished flat and I am so excited to inject my style and personality – it is a complete blank canvas! I have longed for the opportunity to do this for a long time and finally I get to and I couldn’t be happier! My bank balance definitely could though!

This move has given me a renewed sense of admiration for my Dad and all those weekends he spent putting together beds and tables and cabinets and garden furniture! You know…when you hear those dreaded words…’Anna can you come and hold something for me for five minutes? I need your help.’ Oh how I would moan and try to excuse myself only to met by those words every child hates to hear..’It is good for you’.  To which you think how can helping fix the bannister, or mend the broken chair possibly be good for me?  Just like when children think…’Why do I need to learn another language, everyone speaks English.’ or ‘Sir, why do we have to learn maths equations…I am never going to need it.’  The truth is, it really was good for me! It taught me to be precise and read the instructions…to make sure I have everything I need before I start and that if you get stuck walk away, take a break and come back to the task again…because nine times out of ten, it will seem a lot easier and you won’t end up throwing things across the room in anger!

This year Milan is looking rather beautiful and festive, with some absolutely stunning Christmas lights, pictures of which will follow in another post. Every area and main street has its own theme and design and is definitely getting me in the holiday mood! This weekend is Sant’Ambrogio, a holiday which takes place every year on the 7th of December in honour of Milans Patron Saint, followed by The Immaculate Conception on the 8th, meaning a four day weekend! Since living in Milan I have always seen this weekend as the real beginning of the count down to Christmas. On the same day the ‘Oh Bej! Oh Bej!’ Market starts, which is a lively and fun Christmas market, with stalls running from the piazza Duomo all the way down Via Dante to the streets surrounding the castle!  I remember the first year I lived in Milan, a friend and I were exploring the stalls near the castle when it started to snow and in our child-like excitement at the prospect, we ran all the way to the Cathedral as we wanted to see it with the snow falling gently around it.  Later that day the snow came heavy and we made snow angels on the terrace of my first apartment here!

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Duomo in the beginnings of a very snowy weekend, Christmas 2012

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Snow angels!

I have lots of posts planned for the upcoming months and hope to get back  to posting regularly.  I hope you are all enjoying the beginning of the festive season and keeping warm and cosy! If you aren’t, stick on some Christmas songs, heat up some mulled wine and have a mince pie or a slice of cake!

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The magnificent Swarovski Christmas tree last year in Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, Milan

What do you have planned for the season? Are you visiting any Christmas markets or going away anywhere? Travelling home to be with your family or jetting of to a warmer climate?  I would love to hear!

Buon Sant’Ambrogio a tutti!

Anna

Things I Love Sundays

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It has been a busy and full week back at work and I have to say it is taking me a little while to get used to it again! However, it has warmed up slightly here and the sun is shining bright today…which puts you in a good, positive mood!

I am thinking about doing my ‘Things I Love Sundays’ feature every two weeks, or as a month review, but I haven’t decided yet. What do you think?

For now however, this week I have been loving…

Going back to work and seeing all my students! Getting organized  Making new friends New opportunities arising  Lavender and Chamomile room spray Saturday lunch with my girls Catching up with friends who live way too far away Being asked if I live in a library because I always have new books…then being told by a little girl we should open a library together and call it ‘La libreria dei sogni’ The Library of Dreams Chamomile, lemon balm and lavender tea (Loving Lavender and Chamomile everything, at the moment!) – Discovering new places in Milan I haven’t visited before, like the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio (pictured below!) – 

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The outside of the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, Milan

What have you been up to or enjoyed this week? I want to hear!

Here’s to a productive and happy week ahead!

Anna

The Liebster Award

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Thank you so so much to Caitlin at Caitlinfmc, for nominating me for The Liebster Award! Being very new to this whole blogging thing, I am really very grateful! Check out her blog, she is a film student and writes about all sorts of things, including films, music, book reviews and advice for University students! It’s fab!

These awards only have a few rules: 

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you with a link back to his/her blog
  2. Answer the questions asked by the nominator
  3. Nominate 5 – 10 bloggers with under 500 followers
  4. Create 10 questions for the nominees to answer.

First I have to answer these questions:

1.) What inspired you to start blogging?

I finally started my blog this year, as I missed spending time writing and researching. I wanted to set myself a challenge and also share my random thoughts and ramblings!

2.) If you had a super power what would it be?

I would be able to fly…..no more airports, I could go home whenever I wanted!

3.) Where in the world do you want to travel to most?

I think probably Africa! I would love to go on a Safari…maybe even a horseback one!

4.) What’s your dream career?

My dream career would probably be to be a film actress or to work in musical theatre!

5.) What was the last song you listened to?

The last song I listened to was ‘Volare’ by Gipsy Kings.

6.) What was the last film you watched?

The last film I watched was ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ at the cinema with my family.

7.) What is your biggest goal to succeed in life?

This is a hard question, but I would probably say my biggest goal is to be happy and content….and maybe to write a novel!

8.) List three things that make you happy?

Three things which make me happy are my family and friends, music and my dog!

9.) Which would you rather be, able to read minds or fly?

Fly of course – but then I wouldn’t be able to use ‘Oh the bus was late!’ as an excuse!! Haha!

10.) What is your life motto?

This is another difficult question…but I would probably say to try and always see the positive in everything! It is something my Grandma always taught us and I believe in strongly!

Thanks again to Caitlin and here are my questions…

  1. What do you enjoy most about blogging?
  2. What is your favourite book?
  3. If you were throwing a dinner party and could invite five famous people (dead or alive) who would you invite?
  4. What is the most precious thing you own?
  5. What can you not live without?
  6. Would you rather swim in a lake or the sea?
  7. What is your favourite song?
  8. Puppies or kittens?
  9. If you could play any musical instrument, what would you choose?
  10. If you could speak any language (other than English) which would you choose?

And the nominees are..

Anna