My Brilliant Friend Cover

My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante

The tale of two friends, their love and hate for each other, in mid twentieth-century Naples.

Her quickness of mind was like a hiss, a dart, a lethal bite.

My Brilliant Friend is the first of the four Neapolitan novels written by Elena Ferrante, an Italian author who has always written under a pseudonym. The book introduces the reader to Elena and Lila, two young girls living in a poor and vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples.

The neighbourhood is made up of different families, which, throughout the book, are referred to according to the father’s job: the family of the shoemaker, the porter’s family. The book describes and narrates the different dynamics amongst the families and, more importantly, their hierarchy.

This first volume follows the two girls, Elena and Lina, from their years in primary school, when they first become friends, until their late-teens. The two girls are quite different from each other: Elena is calm and shy and always works hard in school; Lina is a wild spirit, always getting in trouble and picking fights with the local boys. However, both are very smart and dream of having a book published, just like Little Women, which they read in secret so that their fathers wouldn’t discover them.

Their relationship starts to waver when their primary school teacher informs their families that both girls should be allowed to attend secondary school. This, though, would mean paying for their education, and Lina’s parents weren’t prepared to invest their money on that. That’s how a distance starts to open between the two: Elena starts attending school and learning new and exciting things every day, whilst Lina joins her father’s shoe-making shop and starts to design projects for new shoes with her brother’s support.

Who do you think is the heroine of the novel – Elena or Lina? Why?

What is the role of education in the novel?

What do you make of the ending? Has Lina made the right decision or will she always be unhappy?

Is the mother-daughter relationship important in the novel? Why, or why not?

How does the author portray Naples in the 1950s? What do you discover about the differences in values, and social and cultural differences of the families?


At the age of fifteen, Lina is courted by Marcello Solara, who belongs to a wealthy and influential family. Though Lina feels threated by him and pressured by her family to marry him. Meanwhile, Elena is spending some time at the seaside, which one of her teachers arranged for her. There she meets a family, the Sarratores, who used to live in the same neighbourhood as her. For years, she’s always had a crush on their teenage son, Nino, and they spend time together over the summer months. However, Nino leaves to return to Naples, after some friction with his father, Donato. Donato, one night, after Elena has gone to bed, approaches her and kisses her. Elena, confused, hurries back to Naples, where she finds out that Lina has also been courted by Stefano Carraci, the son of a wealthy man who is murdered at the beginning of the novel. Lina, in the end, accepts Stefano’s proposal and refuses Marcello. This makes her wealthy and raises her social status. But it alienates Elena and makes her jealous. Elena starts a relationship with Antonio and continues with a successful academic career.

Lina and Stefano get married, but the event is not devoid of surprises and tensions. Lina seems unhappy and uncertain and at the reception she realises that Marcello is wearing a pair of shoes that she has personally designed and was very proud of, and which had initially been purchased by Stefano. The novel ends with high tension in the neighbourhood that leads to the next instalment in the series.

The novel was recently adapted into a television series, which is scripted in Italian and the local dialect and therefore subtitled in English (interestingly, it is subtitled in Italian as well!)

The novel (and the series) have attracted tourists to Naples.

Elena Ferrante had a weekly column in The Guardian.

The author is shrouded in mystery; no precise biographical details are known.

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