Irish Left Review

New Books Worth Reading

Book Reviews by Seán Sheehan 

This is the first of the four Neapolitan novels by the mysterious Elena Ferrante – a tiny handful of people know who she is (assuming the author is a woman) and their lips are sealed – and introduces the friendship between the bookish and brilliant Elena and the fiery iconoclast Lila. The first book is set in post-World War Two Naples, where Elena and Lila are childhood buddies, and it’s a story of camaraderie and conflict.

By the end of reading My Brilliant Friend you are likely to be hooked and proceed immediately to The Story of a New Name, then Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and, finally, The Story of the Lost Child. The novels carry you along as Elena, the narrator, and Lila grow up into a world of politics, marriage and family but this is a million miles away from chick-lit.

It is difficult to pin down the way in which the reader, female or male, is drawn into the lives of these two women but I suspect it has something to do with all of us not just knowing a Lila and Elena but having or wanting to have a part of them in our own makeup.