Vox: HBO’s My Brilliant Friend adaptation is a knockout

Even if you’ve never read Elena Ferrante’s novels, this new eight-episode series will have you gripped.

On Vox

Todd VanDerWerff – Nov 18, 2018

I haven’t read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, the best-selling, heavily acclaimed quartet of books that form the basis for HBO’s new My Brilliant Friend. (Each book will be an eight-episode season of the show; I’ve seen seven of the eight episodes of season one, based on the first book, called, well, My Brilliant Friend.)

I know, I know. This is horrifying. Didn’t everybody read those books a few years ago? And pass them along to their friends with hushed admiration and excitement for everything the mysterious Ferrante (whose real identity is — at least officially — a secret) accomplished? And feel the tremendous power of Ferrante’s evocation of a bygone era in Italy? Well? Didn’t they?

It’s not that I had anything against the books — I always meant to read them, I swear — and I present this fact as the basis of what I’m going to say next: Freed from the hype surrounding the titles, and the questions on Ferrante’s identity, and everything else, this new series is a knockout, excavating the core story of the books and creating a beautiful coming-of-age tale, brimming with nostalgia, sorrow, and humor.

(I also say this because critics who have read the books seem to believe the series is a good adaptation, but perhaps too direct of an adaptation. So take that for what it’s worth, book fans.)

I never felt like I was missing out on something having not read the source material. I always felt like I understood what it was people adore about Ferrante’s world. And for me, at least, it is a triumph of world-building, as potent and richly realized as any sci-fi or fantasy show.

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