My heart sank when I opened ‘My Brilliant Friend’ and saw the ‘Index of characters’. I’d really been looking forward to reading this book, especially as I knew it was the first part in a series set in Italy – and had been written by a woman. All details that attracted me to ‘My Brilliant Friend.’ But a book which announces in its first pages that there are so many characters that the reader cannot possibly be expected to keep track on them all, and therefore needs an index, wasn’t a good start. I firmly believe that a good novel should have enough characters to make it interesting, but not so many that the reader is confused.
But I persevered, and as it turned out I didn’t need the index, and found ‘My Brilliant’ Friend an evocative and atmospheric novel.
The story starts when the two main characters, Elena and Lila are young girls, living in a poor, post 2nd World War community on the outskirts of Naples. They play with their dolls, go to school and grow up observing the patriarchal society change in front of their eyes.
The plot of the novel isn’t fast-paced, and lot of emphasis is put on small details, and the emotions of the narrator, Elena, who is constantly trying to keep up with her brilliant friend. But as the story develops, we are left to wonder which one of the girls is the more talented – brilliant – one.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘My Brilliant Friend’ and have just started reading the next instalment in the series, ‘The Story of a New Name’.