My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

What you should know:
The book is fantastic, and I couldn’t help but absorb it in just a few days. I feel like it really got at the core of human insecurity, gender and income inequality, female friendships, and our hierarchy of needs. Somehow it’s also a page-turner and an engaging story. It blows my mind that all of those things are possible in one short novel. I guarantee that it’ll get under your skin and soak in.

Ferrante vs. Knausgaard:
Even though I’ve only read this first novel in the sequence, it’s hard for me to resist the urge to compare Ferrante’s Neapolitan series to Knausgaard’s My Struggle.

Both series are: multi-volume, non-English, first person page-turner novels spanning several decades of their character’s lives, first published in English in 2012, with subsequent volumes appearing annually. They both feature straightforward, simple prose, detailing the ins and outs of their characters’ lives, and are deeply, sometimes disturbingly honest in tone. They both tackle a lot of the same themes, but from inside different experiences. If you enjoyed one, I’d highly recommend the other. Especially if you’re a guy who enjoyed Knausgaard, you owe it to yourself to read something similar, but from a female perspective. Ferrante’s writing really put me inside that experience in an empathic way.

They are also vastly different from one another: The Neapolitan Novels are fictitious, set in Italy, viscerally violent, told in a mostly linear, chronological order, feature short chapters, supposedly gained a lot in translation, are written pseudonymously, and have a tight focus on the friendship between two female characters over the years.

My Struggle is wildly non-linear, purportedly autobiographical, set mostly in Norway, meandering, has no chapters whatsoever, steeped in nostalgia, and is tightly focused on Knausgaard’s view of his general failings as a man, before, after, and during his journey toward becoming a writer.

For more on the similarities between the two works, I’d suggest Joshua Rathman’s terrific essay for The New Yorker: Knausgaard or Ferrante?

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