My Brilliant Friend – review

Just finished “My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante. I’d read about Ferrante and the mystery surrounding her identity in a book review magazine, and was immediately intrigued. Fame and all its trappings seem to be part and parcel of any top selling author’s existence nowadays, but Ferrante has rejected all of that, opting to write under a pseudonym. Nobody knows who she is, or even if she is not in fact a he – something that has been mooted as a possibility by certain readers. To be honest, though, whether the story is entirely autobiographical, semi-autobiographical or pure fiction isn’t the issue. What matters is the author’s ability to capture the reader’s attention  throughout this accessible yet emotionally charged and evocative narrative.

Ferrante’s prose style has been widely praised, as has her uncomprising representation of her subject matter. This is writing which sucks the reader in immediately, opening up a new world of experience – one of honour codes, of violence, of increadible poverty and of great determination. “My Brilliant Friend” is based around the lives of a small community living on the fringes of Naples in the 1950s. And far from being an idyllic, romanticised view of last century Italian village life, it in fact brings home just how raw and difficult that existence was: particularly for women. Lena, the narrator, has to battle complacency and prejudice in order to achieve a decent education for herself, while her ‘brilliant friend’ Lena – a polymath who teaches herself Greek and Latin – is gradually  dragged from her calling by the responsibilities of family and social expectations.

It’s a story which conjures the rich reality of Neapolitan life through uncompromising prose and a pacing which never drags, but patiently reveals the girls’ troubled journey into womanhood. Definitely intend to read the next novel in this series.


Summer reading

So, I’m nothing if not a slow reader. I don’t know why that is, or whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s certainly frustrating, as there are so many books I’d like to get through and really not enough time. That’s why I thought I’d set myself the challenge of reading as many novels as possible over the summer. This is my current list, but I’m always open to new recommendations:

Elena FerrenteMy Brilliant Friend – I’m half way through this at the moment and loving it. I have a personal rule that if something’s not originally in English I should buy the Polish translation to practice my language skills, and I’m finding this accessible and an absolute pleasure to read. There’s something about Ferrente’s style which is at once fresh and immediate, and which brings you up close to the – often – brutal events she’s describing. If, of course, she is a she because…well, no one knows who she really is.

Ali SmithThe Artful – Smith is probably my favourite author, and How to be Both is probably my favourite book. I really enjoyed Boy meets Girl as well – an absolute treasure. Looking forward to exploring more of her lyrical, explosive prose.

Rob MayGirl Under the Gun 2 + 3 – enjoyed the action and thrills of the first part  when I read it on Wattpad and I decided to read the rest of the series this summer. I love the way the author creates great women’s characters and combines suspense with humour. Rob May’s books are available on Amazon:

@RainAaren (Desiree Stinson) on Wattpad – The Wolf of Estare – great, great lesbian fantasy fiction from a wonderful new writer. This is part of an ongoing story on the site and is available here:

@WyldPatienz (Rebecca Hill)The TwiceBorn – it’s another Wattpad tale – a dark fantasy with lesbian main characters. Beautifully written and compelling. It’s available here:

Emma DonoghueRoom – So far I’ve only read Slammerkin by Donoghue, which was as perfect a work of historical fiction as any I’ve come across. Anyway, as Room appears to be her most popular work to date and has recently been turned into a film, I thought I’d give it a go.

Ian McewanSweet Tooth – There’s something about Mcewan’s capacity for empathy and his nuanced fiction that I love. That and the fact that he is a master of twists. And I’ve been assured this book contains one of the biggest, so, yeah, definitely on the list.

Yaa GyasiHomegoing – Read an article on this in Time magazine, and just decided I have to read it. The daughter of Ghanaian emigrants to the US, Gyasi’s novel covers the legacy of slavery from its origins to the present day. Gyasi is only 26 years old and has already received a seven figure advance for her first book.

Andrew Michael HurleyThe Loney – It promises mystery, it promises suspense, Stephen King loved it and its picked up a plethora of prizes including the Costa Novel award. Got to be worth a try.

David MitchellThe Bone Clocks – I’m a huge fan of Mitchell and the way he works so effortlessly with some of the most complex narrative structures I’ve ever read. Loved Cloud Atlas, positively drooled over Ghostwritten. And my sister bought me the real feel copy of this one so I’m itching to get into it.

Anthony DoerrAll the Light we Cannot See – I’ve heard adjectives like intricate and lyrical used to describe Doerr’s narrative and prose respectively: a story which focuses on the lives of two children caught up in the trauma of the second world war.

Anyway, that’s my list for now. I’m sure it will get longer. If you’ve read any of these books or would like to offer me some other recommendations, drop me a line. Kate X