Monday, April 11, 2016

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

We read My Brilliant Friend for my book club and I was kind of hoping that I would be able to get a copy from the library, but I was like a millionth on the list, so I broke down and purchased it about a week and a half before our meeting.  The first thing I did was start at the cover in disbelief.
I immediately posted in our Facebook group: I am greatly enjoying the book so far, but I must admit that having to look up a word that appears in a blurb on the cover intimidated me a bit.

For the record, the word bildungsroman is a novel dealing with one person's formative years or spiritual education.  It's a perfect word to describe the book, but I had never heard of it before. It made me a a bit nervous to read the book if the vocabulary was going to be like that.

This book reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I have a well-documented love for. I am not going to do it justice, but I'm going to try. There are moments in this book when the narrator is describing conflicting emotions about things that are so spot on, it's like living in a girl who is fourteen. She's describing how envious she is of her best friend and how much she craves her friend's love and attention, while at the same time understanding her own flaws and how her friend takes advantage of those flaws AND describing her friend's flaws with unerring accuracy and naivete.

It's like this scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

 "Well, obviously, she's feeling very sad, because of Cedric dying. Then I expect she's feeling confused because she liked Cedric and now she likes Harry, and she can't work out who she likes best. Then she'll be feeling guilty, thinking it's an insult to Cedric's memory to be kissing Harry at all, and she'll be worrying about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going out with Harry and she probably can't work out what her feelings towards Harry are anwyay, because he was the one who was with Cedric when Cedric died, so that's all very mixed up and painful. Oh, and she's afraid she's going to be thrown off the Ravenclaw Quiddich team because she's flying so badly."

A slightly stunned silence greeted the end of this speech, then Ron said, "One person  can't feel all that at once, they'd explode."

I kind of felt like I was going to explode the whole time I was reading this novel. It was like an explosion of emotions, but emotions that totally made sense and compelled me forward in a non-stop train of gut churning, ominous foreshadowing of something horrible about to happen at any second.

The book is a translation and one of the women in our book club was extremely worried about this. I have to admit that I wouldn't have even realized it was a translation if it were not for her concern on the topic. The translation is smooth and the sentences are constructed to be small works of art in their own right, independent of the character building they are doing in concert with one another.

So, yeah, I think you should read it.  And I promise you that you won't have to look up every other word.

1 comment:

  1. Typically, a bildungsroman is more specifically a coming-of-age novel dealing with an apprenticeship. Charles Dickens was a master of the bildungsroman.


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