Tuesday, 12 April 2022

The Neapolitan Novels (Book Review)


"Beginning with My Brilliant Friend, the four Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante follow Elena and Lila, from their rough-edged upbringing in Naples, Italy, not long after WWII, through the many stages of their lives—and along paths that diverge wildly. Sometimes they are separated by jealousy or hostility or physical distance, but the bond between them is unbreakable, for better or for worse." (Quote from the Amazon website)

by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend (2012)
The Story of a New Name (2013)
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014)
The Story of the Lost Child (2015)


I found this "boxed set" of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels for Kindle at a temporary very low price  back in the autumn, and grabbed the opportunity to buy it, since I'd heard about them, and had also watched a TV series based on the first book in the series. (I think so far only the first season has been broadcasted on Swedish television.)

I read the first two parts in Nov-Dec 2021, and finished the last two in March. Have to say that for me, they didn't quite live up to my expectations from some of the enthusiastic reviews I'd read about the series. I wouldn't say they're not worth reading, but I did find the story sort of "sagging" along the way. The relationship between the two friends remains pretty much stuck in the same pattern through the years, rather than developing much, and I found it increasingly hard to truly sympathize with either of the main characters. (It's Elena narrating the story, though, so probably worth keeping in mind that we really only get to see Lila from her point of view, and her interpretations of what Lila says, and what other people say about Lila.) The book also involves a vast set of other characters, most of which also go by various nicknames, making it rather difficult to keep people apart and remember who is who - even though each book begins with a list of all the major families and characters involved. (Lila herself, for example, is only called Lila by Elena; most people call her Lina, but her birth name is Raffaella. And it's similar with most of the others!)

In the first book, we get to know Elena and Lila as little girls, growing up in poor circumstances in Naples. Elena admires Lila as being her "brilliant" friend, but as things turn out for them, it is Elena who finds a way to go on studying, moving away, and also making a name for herself as an author with a reputation going far beyond Naples. Lila on the other hand, gets married young, does not continue with any higher studies, and never leaves her home town. Later on in life, she still makes a business career in computer technology though. Elena too gets married, a bit later in life than her friend, to a professor. Both of the friends give birth to children and go through several relationships and separations with men over the years. They also both have a relationship with the same man (whom they both knew since childhood), but at different times in their lives. During some periods of their lives, they live far apart and only speak on the phone occasionally; during other periods they are neighbors and see each other daily. The balance/imbalance in their relationship keeps shifting a bit, but never really gets resolved. In some respects they may have been good for each other - in other respects not. In that way, I suppose many readers (myself included) can relate at least partly to old friendships of one's own. 

I guess the books also do give an insight into the history of Naples and the  'Camorra' (mafia-like criminal organization) influence on society there. Not being very familiar with Italy myself, I suppose I may be missing some of those points made. 


  1. Hmm... sounds like something I can easily pass by. Thank you for the honest review!

    1. So many books in the world, Meike... One cannot read them all! :)

  2. For me it takes an exceptional author to write a series such as this, without the story sagging from time to time. After reading your review I'm not sure I'd want to wade through all four novels. You've done well to keep going!

    1. CG, many people do seem to find her an exceptional writer. There are lots of exceptional writers who didn't end up among my personal favourites, though! ;)

  3. I have heard of the first one, and I believe it is a movie.

    1. Ginny, it's a TV series, but according to Wikipedia the first two episodes were also presented at some film festival.


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