Dec 28, 2018 – Karen Bojar
I’ve been in the grip of Ferrante Fever since 2013, have read all Ferrante’s novels at least three times and have written a book, “In Search of Elena Ferrante,” to help me better understand why these books have had such a hold on my imagination and on the imaginations of millions of readers worldwide. Given this history, I expected to be hypercritical of the new film version “My Brilliant Friend” on HBO, but loved it and am eagerly looking forward to season 2.
Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels trace the lifelong friendship of Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, born a month apart in a working-class neighborhood in Naples in 1944. The film begins with Lila’s disappearance and Elena’s attempt to recapture her friend by recording everything she can remember.
What only a novel can do:
The film is faithful to the novel although (except for the occasional voiceover) we do not have Elena’s narrative voice, her complicated, often contradictory thoughts, or her deeply felt but sometimes barely understood emotions. Although the HBO series is a successful adaptation, it has not shaken my belief that great novelists, and I include Ferrante in this category, provide access to the interior lives of fictional characters in a way film cannot. Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet reminds us of what only literature can do.
Elena presents one face to the world — the impression of a “good girl” — while often seething with resentment and jealousy that she cannot fully acknowledge. Elena thought that Lila was still ahead of her in everything, “as if she were going to a secret school.”
In the novel, Ferrante writes that Elena admitted that in some hidden part of herself she looked forward to attending a school where Lila would never enter, where without competition from Lila she would be the best student, and that she might sometimes tell Lila about her experiences, boasting about her success.