Rhian Sasseen – Dec 7, 2018
I tend to be suspicious of film and television adaptations of my favorite books. This might stem from a kind of jealousy—the slow unraveling of a narrative or the exact right word used for the exact right idea are part of the pleasures of literature, but sometimes, as a writer, I wish I could borrow from film the immediacy of a jump cut or image. So it was with some apprehension that I began to watch My Brilliant Friend, HBO’s new adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Would this first season—eight episodes in total, dedicated entirely to portraying the first novel in the series—water down the source material, with its unflinching portrayal of the violence and poverty of postwar Naples and the simultaneous terror and joy of girlhood and female friendship? After devouring the first few episodes this past weekend, I can assure you that, so far, it does not. Rather, this is the rare adaptation that both hews closely to its source material and yet manages to escape any stiltedness. And while Ferrante’s novels remain first in my heart, there are moments in the television series—the visual shock of a red menstrual stain amid the otherwise muted color palette—that might work even better on film.