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Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Here are two things that would pass the Bechdel test.

This weekend, I discovered the Sarah Connor Chronicles.  Terminator 1 and 2 were my favourite films as a teenager (subsequently usurped by Fargo, and then the two volumes of Kill Bill, since which time I have mellowed to favour much quieter fare).  I loved the action sequences, and I loved the way Arnie went from bad to good, the little boy was a great actor, but best of all I loved Linda Hamilton as Sarah, already steely tough in the first film, and then even more impressively, especially body built up for her role in the second.

Terminators 3 and 4 didn’t have Linda, or James Cameron directing, so I gave them a miss, but I was curious to see what Game Of Thrones Lena Headey would do with the Sarah Connor role when I found out about this 2008 television series.  I took about half an episode to be convinced, cos Lena doesn’t have as many muscles as Linda, and has a slight tendency to look Cersei Lannister put out, rather than out and out tough, but she’s just got a different style, a bit more efficient, a bit less mad.  The script is really great, with lots of chase and action, plus those touching “difficult choice” scenes that American series do so well – do I kill this person who might be innocent to save myself, that sort of thing.  And all those corny little things about what it is to be human, and what it is to miss people from your old life when you have to bale out of it.

I also read My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante.  This is the first of four novels chronicling the lives of two girls born in a poor area of 1950s Naples.  They are both clever, but only one, our narrator, Elena, who comes from a slightly better off family, is allowed by her family to stay at school past the age of eleven.  Her cleverer friend, Lila, is not.

I have to say that I found the first half a bit Matilda/Good Will Hunting, as we look at the children’s lives pre-middle school, and Lila amazes us with her mental feats, and carries on doing so; when Elena progresses to middle school, she struggles with her Latin and Greek, but it’s OK because Lila has decided to borrow books from the library so that she is able to keep up with her studies, and is able to help Elena out.  It gets much better after the half way mark, when life becomes less school bound and the girls start to determine their own lives.  Lila is more resourceful and determined, but more constrained, and they both seem to envy the parts of the other’s life that they can’t have.  The dynamic of envy, and need, and the feeling that each is the only one who really understands the other in a town full of violence and small mindedness are really amazingly rendered.

It’s not often that I read more than the first in a series of books, but I definitely want to find out what happens!

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6 Comments

  1. How cool you liked Fargo. That dear lady in the lead is my cousin. No, we don’t hang out together – but cousin she is! I just love her. You read an eclectic assortment of books, which is something I must learn to do. I read what I consider fluff (and why not, being a little fluff) but I do need to do some more interesting reading. You give me ideas – totally dangerous.

      • Yep that’s her! My aunt is her “birth” mother. She was with us until she was 2 and then adopted by the minister of my mother’s hometown. I have pictures of her when she was a baby and up to the age of 2 – but long ago, since my aunt is very weird and has been trying to get into contact with her for years – Mom and I decided to let it lay and keep the pictures. Someday I’ll bet she’d like to have them.

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