Is any friendship ever pure? Cemented in a genuine affection and admiration for one another? Or, must something impure enter in, something like jealousy or power or insecurity?
I think of my early friendships, coming into them completely trusting because of the respect I experienced in my childhood home, and feeling so betrayed at the first sign of deceit. It was inconceivable to me that someone would want to trick me, or steal from me, or lie to me. I stumbled into first grade already a bit jaded after trying to be friends with a little girl in our neighborhood who did those things relentlessly.
So it intrigues me that Elena Ferrante has written a trilogy, the Neopolitan novels, beginning with My Brilliant Friend. It’s a brilliant title, for one thing, because Lila Cerulla embodies everything that I found both alluring and daunting in my own friendships.
A brilliant friend isn’t necessarily a kind friend. She isn’t first and foremost supporting, loving, or encouraging. Instead, the word brilliant seems to imply some deviousness, some special cleverness that makes her able to succeed with the upper hand…
and yet, maybe brilliant refers to Elena Grecco. She is beautiful Lila’s friend, brilliant not in social prowess, but in Italian, Latin and Greek. In school, she is brilliant.
These two contrasting friends offer much for us to consider. We weigh the friendships we’ve harbored in the past as well as today; we review our childhood and the goals instilled in us by our parents or our own rebellious hearts.
Lila marries Stefano at sixteen years of age. She is a beautiful bride. Her friend watches the ceremony feeling plain and in many ways unequal. But, to whom can we find equality? We can only be who we were meant to be, independent even within the closest of friendships.
It was Jacqui’s review which encouraged me to revisit My Brilliant Friend when first I laid it down. Also, Nicola had a hand in my picking it up again. Now I’m eager to see where Ferrante takes us in Book Two: The Story of a New Name.