Type Elena Ferrante’s name into a search engine and you will get umpteen-squillion hits. Her Neapolitan novels have sold around the world to great acclaim, and there’s been the added agitation about who the pseudonymous writer really is.
I tend to avoid reading anything making waves in the media. I want to read a book for what it is and not through the lens of a brouhaha. (Apologies for the word: I have always wanted to use it!). Alexandra Schwartz at the New Yorker, commented when the author was – or was not – exposed last year, that as a fan of the novels she had no interest in who the writer is.
As a general sentiment, I agree. Literary detective work is all very well, but perhaps at some stage we just have to accept writers make things up and digging for autobiography does not change the value of the work.
Ferrante’s right to anonymity shouldn’t need defending, but having waded into the debate and out again, I can turn to the first novel which was translated into English in 2012 and which I finally got around to reading, having decided the brouhaha (apologies: I wanted to use that word again!) had passed enough to get a clear view.
‘My Brilliant Friend’ has even more squillions of hits so I won’t repeat character- setting-plot details. I read the novel quickly, immersed in the world of the friends. It is immersive. Still, I’m not sure why it leaped over many other novels published in 2012 to become a bestseller.
This is just the first in a quartet of novels. I have to admit, I have no interest in reading on. I am happy to leave the girls on the cusp of adulthood. I can see only more aggression and a full measure of misery ahead. Millions of fans were willing to keep going, so maybe one day… At the moment I am willing to stick in the minority.
My takeaway feeling was one of thankfulness. I fully appreciate the luxury of an innocent childhood, and my brilliant friend from my school days, who is still brilliant and still a friend.
Image: Renoir captures young friends at the piano – the clever one perhaps learning Chopin or Schubert.