Vice: ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Is a Magical Book and a Mediocre HBO TV Show

It’s gorgeous and well-acted, but loses the emotional impact of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.

On Vice

Nicole Clark – Dec 8, 2018

For years, Elena Ferrante’s true identity has remained a mystery, even as she wrote prolifically and gained international renown as the author of the Neapolitan novels—a series famous for its transcendent insight into lifelong female friendship. The quartet of books traces the relationship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo and is set in 1950s Naples, a city crawling with abuse of all forms: intimate partner violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and street beatings to name a few. By all accounts, it’s profoundly difficult for a young girl to flourish in that environment. This is what makes the perspective of the Neapolitan novels so powerful: They dare to center womanhood in a time period that was toxically misogynistic.

Today, the series is considered a masterpiece of contemporary literature, with more than 10 million copies sold in more than 40 countries. And Ferrante’s success has motivated a number of pointed attempts at uncovering who she really is. Most famously, in 2016, Italian journalist Claudio Gatti tried to pin her down as a Roman translator named Anita Raja. This rumor was never confirmed, but became a literary scandal that further propelled the books’ already flourishing sales. Ferrante’s identity is still known only by her publisher, Edizioni E/O. The rest of us only know her pen name. This mystery, paired with the incredible critical reception of her novels, has given Ferrante an almost godlike status among fans and in literary circles.

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