The 4th Entry in InQuire's series spotlighting University of Kent students' favourite books of the 2010s.
“I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t.”
-Elena Ferrante, author of “My Brilliant Friend”.
Like any great read, when I initially picked up my copy of the first book to the Neapolitan quartet, I had no measure of the journey upon which I was about to embark, nor the impact it would have on me. Ferrante’s work, deserving of all its acclaim, is an ode to domestic experiences that shape and transform the lives of people different and alike, holding its truth not in fantastical plot twists but rather in the daily rituals of life and the thought cycles with which they go hand-in-hand.
It starts off by introducing the main leads, Lenu and Lila, diving head-first into the complex and rivalrous friendship they hold, a theme that prevails throughout the series, and an intimate account of their childhood living in a small village in Naples. We see the development of the characters’ histories through a narration that makes the village seem more like a familiar place lost in memory than a foreign land, and the characters as extensions of people that one has passed by through life. What really captures the reader’s attention throughout the book is her dedication to intimacy and her ability to create spaces that feel so familiar, using her words to capture the lens through which the reader is able to view their own thought process externally. From recounts of childhood rivalries, instances of first loves, and the complexities of living in a place defined by social differences like class and gender, her book deals with themes and relevant issues that have impacted the lives of the readers at one point or another, making it a powerful tool to explore one’s own experiences and validate them for their impact.
More than anything else, however, what truly makes Ferrante’s work stand out is the authenticity of her characters and their hold over the reader as the story progresses. In each interaction, such as the competitive fight between Lenu and Lila over their beloved dolls at the start of the book, she deals with emotions and experiences that are all too often overlooked in fictional writing. Feelings of shame, jealousy, dominance, and competitiveness all engulf her work and introduce the reader to a safe space to acknowledge the existence of these feelings and address them from an external frame of reference. In the completeness of her characters in having defined their complex moralities and their weaknesses and strength, through My Brilliant Friends, Ferrante offers to the readers personalities that are so relatable it almost makes one feel a sense of propriety over them. It makes one flutter when things go right, become defensive when fights break out, and develop a sense of closeness with the characters as though they have been companions for what feels like a lifetime.
The Neapolitan series is a dynamic and all-engaging tale that promises to indulge anyone with an interest in feminism, late history, friendship, or even just a recollection of ordinary instances that make life as special as it is. Although Ferrante takes little interest in the publicity of her writing, she has been quick to enter my list of the most important fictional writers of our times, among the likes of Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Arundhati Roy. For anyone who hasn’t yet, her book is a must-read of the last decade.
Images Courtesy of The New York Times and RiverWriter-WordPress.com