Broadly:’My Brilliant Friend’ Is an Exquisite Look at Feeling Trapped

On Broadly

Maris Kreizman – Dec 11, 2018

In an HBO miniseries adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend,” the joys come from witnessing small slices of hope as a friendship buds in a bleak 50s setting.

The desire to escape the confines of one’s hometown is an urge familiar to anyone who’s ever listened to a Bruce Springsteen song or dreamed of moving to a new city in search of a bigger life. The heroine of novelist Elena Ferrante’sNeapolitan Novels, also named Elena, is no exception, and HBO’s exquisite adaptation of My Brilliant Friend brings this concept of fleeing one’s all-too-familiar homeland, to life.

The series, set in the 1950s, overwhelms with a visceral sense of how oppressive Elena’s little corner of Naples is. Articulating what we already vividly see just feels like being hit over the head with ones of the pots an enraged neighbor throws over the side of her balcony. No need.

I come to My Brilliant Friend as a devoted fan of the Neapolitan Novels series. I’ve read the author’s standalone books and her Guardian column, and I’ve read much of the speculation about who the mysterious author writing under the pen name Elena Ferrante really is, including the maddening takes in earlier days when critics (mostly men) guessed that Ferrante was actually a man. All the while, in the back of my head, I started to think of My Brilliant Friend as the setup book, the one you needed to get through in order to properly enjoy the other, better books to come. Book One was about being introduced to the friendship Elena and her soulmate and bitter rival, Lila, share; getting a sense of Ferrante’s anti-capitalist ideologies; and trying to keep track of the many different Italian names and nicknames.

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