Like a Snake Swallowing its Tail

A review of “My Brilliant Friend”.

My wrists ache. I have had them poised over my keyboard for seemingly hours, it could be days. I lost track of time. The reason I am in this achy state is because I cannot fathom how to review My Brilliant Friend. Did I enjoy it, dislike it, or am I indifferent? I read my way through the entire 300+ pages even though at times I felt it was my Kindle version of Groundhog Day. (For those who aren’t familiar with GHD it means: “a situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way.”) Yes, that about sums up the “dislike it” part. I felt like someone whose car had broken down in a teeny one-horse town and then was forced to sit through ten thousand retellings of the time Jim-Bob’s-Saloon-had-a-grease-fire. Ferrante starts with two little girls who develop a specific dynamic from age six, and then she continues to retell this exact same saga year after year-for a decade! It is like a snake swallowing its tail. In addition, I couldn’t see any growth at all in the main character, she just seems to repeat the identical pattern over and over which eventually makes her somewhat unlikable. How did she not learn from previous events?

Be warned: Ferrante employs a cast of thousands to populate this circular saga. However, as I bought the Kindle version, I either did not get or did not see a chart that is apparently in the front of the book. It sets out all the characters; who is related to whom and so forth. If you buy a hard copy, I suggest you study this first! In fact, make a power-point presentation and then test yourself each day.

Now onto the enjoy part. {Note: I never said ‘love’.} MBF is written in exquisite detail, focusing on the excruciating minutiae of daily life to the point where you feel you are living inside the characters. One minute I felt deeply committed to the people, the next, I felt claustrophobic, smothered by their endless trials. However, I did enjoy learning about Naples post WWII and I had to admire Ferrante’s laser focus.

Two points worth mentioning: this is one in a trilogy which may explain the abrupt and rather weak ending. Second, it is translated from the writer’s native Italian.

Buy if: you want to immerse yourself in someone else’s life.

Avoid if: you enjoy books that move at something more than a glacial pace; if you dislike violence in books.

Buy at Amazon

Posted in Book Review

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