Harper’s Bazaar: What Elena Ferrante and the Neapolitan novels say about female friendship

As Sky Atlantic prepares to take Elena Ferrante’s best-selling My Brilliant Friend to the small screen, we look at why the story of Lila and Lenu has such potency

On Harper’s Bazaar

Ella Alexander – Nov 16, 2018

There is something about the Neapolitan novels that has gripped so many great swathes of people – and the reason that they are the subject of a new television adaptation airing this weekend on Sky Atlantic. They’re the kind of books to insatiably gorge on, to miss tube stops for, to stay up late reading regardless of early morning starts. And, when they’re done, when the reading is finished after book four, there is this is deep sense of wanting more.

It is the same feeling that first love evokes, and also of our some of our earliest female friendships, both of which carry the same levels of intensity. It is the latter of which Elena Ferrante captures so masterfully in the Neapolitan novels through the relationship between its star characters, Lila and Lenu – the depth and complexity of our most potent and formative female friendships.

We place a lot of emphasis on romantic love because of the narratives that we’re fed from such a young age. But the relationships and love we have for our female friends, especially during childhood, are equally as emotional and charged. Days at school with our earliest pals are followed up by hours on the phone because you still have so much to talk about. There are dance routines made up to pop songs that if you thought hard now you’d still remember the moves. You’d do anything for a sleepover over going home after dinner. You tidy each other’s rooms in the hope that your mum relents and lets you or them stay the night. And then there are hours spent giggling late in bed because you’ve found more to discuss.

When family holidays cause periods apart, because it’s pre-email, you write rambling and dramatic letters about the minutiae of your respective days. As you become teenagers, they inspire you and spur you on. You riff of one another and nourish each other. Sometimes, you pass off their opinion as your own. They suggest what to read, watch and what to listen to. For better or for worse, some of those things might stick even in adulthood. You are a team, who have not yet worked out mature, healthy boundaries and what it means to expect too much of each other. It is young romance without the physical.

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