Brilliant indeed

51OEUHk5YiLI was going to post about the delights of Amsterdam as a place to visit for a week — the cityscapes, the cafes, the restaurants, the museums large and small, the whole urban experience, all even better than we had hoped. But more or less as soon as we got back, I was felled by a nasty attack of a recurrent problem, about which all I will say is thank heavens for penicillin. Though industrial quantities of antibiotics do leave you feeling still pretty flattened, so it has been a few days of staggering from bed to sofa and back. But as I begin to feel more human I’ve had plenty of time to finish the book I’d just started before going away. Like Amsterdam, this too has been lauded to the skies by those who know it. It has been a delight, in both cases, to find that other people’s really warm recommendations are more than deserved (it doesn’t always happen!). And since you certainly don’t need me to tell you more about Amsterdam, but you might not have heard of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend — I hadn’t until a couple of months ago, from the much better read Mrs Logic Matters — maybe I’ll just sing its praises instead.

It really is absolutely wonderful. But I’m not going even to try, in my limping way, to say why. Rather let me point you to this New York Review of Books review of Ferrante’s oeuvre by Rachel Donadio, and/or this review from the New Yorker by James Wood. If these don’t get you reading, nothing will!

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3 Responses to Brilliant indeed

  1. Rowsety Moid says:

    Did you read it in Italian or in the English translation? I ask because in comments on Amazon and other sites, a significant minority of the readers complain about the writing — saying that it doesn’t flow and has ungrammatical and even nonsensical sentences — and wonder whether it might be due to the translation. When I look at the preview on Amazon, I can, to an extent, see what they mean. (For instance, there are at least a lot of comma splices, which many regard as ungrammatical.)

    The reviews you linked don’t make it sound wonderful to me. They wouldn’t inspire me to buy or read it. Still, now that I’ve dipped into the preview, I think I might enjoy it, despite the irregular prose style. However, the book has at lest one serious problem from my point of view: it’s the first in a series — a series that seems to be at least four books long. Does it work on its own, or is it necessary to read the other volumes too?

    • Peter Smith says:

      I read it in English. And only very rarely did I find the translation grated (and that was more because of transatlanticisms than because of grammatical stumbles). And yes, it is the first in a series — the translation of the fourth and last of which has yet to appear. I am certainly left very much wanting to read the rest, and would have been very disappointed to have had to leave the characters which so much of their lives still before them. But the world Elena Farrante creates/depicts in My Brilliant Friend is so fully realised that the book already is (say some) a masterpiece on its own.

      But whether another reader will find it as wonderful as I did (and Mrs Logic Matters did, not to mention our Italian son-in-law who I think first pointed it out to us!), well … that’s why I put in the link to the reviews, more helpfully expressive than anything I could manage. If they don’t chime with your tastes and interests in novels, then Elena Farrante won’t perhaps be for you. Perhaps. But I was entirely hooked by thirty pages in …

      • Rowsety Moid says:

        I saw a copy on a 3 for 2 offer the other day and bought it. The book itself had enough potential appeal for me to give it a try; but to me those reviews make it sound more worthy than wonderful.

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