#13: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

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We present: the first episode after our 6-month hiatus! We have 3 episodes in backlog that we’ll be putting up as weird holiday gifts, and this is the first. This episode was actually recorded in May of this year; we read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym), which was Sam’s choice. This book, published in 2011, has been heralded as a modern masterpiece in Italy and is the first in a four-part series called the Neopolitan Novels. This book deals with the friendship between two young girls in 1950s Naples, and how their neighbourhood, city, country and friendship are changed throughout their lives. My Brilliant Friend confronts friendship, womanhood, abuse, women’s roles in society, and lots more, so we had a lot to talk about!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Throughout the book, I noticed the constant push and pull between love and competition or jealousy between Lila and Elena. Did this remind you of your own female friendships, and/or the way that female friendships are portrayed in mainstream media?
  2. Lenu seems to finally realize her future is not tied to the neighbourhood at the end of the novel, unlike Lila. What unites the people of the neighbourhood together? How do class and wealth shape it?
  3. What do you make of the traditional Italian machismo and conventions of masculinity in the novel? How does this culture of masculinity affect the characters in the novel?
  4. When Maestro Oliviero discusses the ‘plebs’ with Elena, the teacher is clearly damning Lila as someone who wishes to remain a plebeian, and exorting Elena to try to raise herself above her station, and above Lila. Maestro Oliviero obviously sees education as the key to raising oneself. Does the novel endorse this position? In the prologue we learn that Lila has never left Naples while Elena is living somewhere else and is comfortably well-off. Did Lila wish to remain a ‘pleb’?
  5. How did you interpret Lila’s dissociative episodes in the novel? She describes a sense of dissolving boundaries, and she has the impression that something absolutely material, which had been present around her and around everyone and everything forever, but imperceptible, was breaking down the outlines of persons and things and revealing itself. Did you see these as a kind of temporary psychosis, a religious experience, a character trait, or something else entirely?

Our theme song is Balance of Power by Mr. Bitterness and the Guilty Pleasures, which we found on freemusicarchive.org.

Happy reading!

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