When I first started hearing about Elena Ferrante’s books I was confused;”Didn’t they mean Silvia Avallone?” A story of two friends growing up in poor neighborhood in Italy, how many could there be? As it turns out; two.
The odds are high that around the same time two authors would publish books with centered around the difficulty that is female friendship, especially when with the same gifts their circumstances lead them in different directions in life. But maybe it was a sign of the times?
I read Stål (Steel) by Silvia Avallone the other year and have now finished My brilliant friend by Elena Ferrante so I can compare, although with reservation. Steel is a book and My brilliant friend is the first installment in a quartet, of which everyone says that it gets better with every part. It should be noted that both these books have been translated to Swedish by the same translator so maybe something of hers has rubbed of on the style, I don’t know.
Even though they are set almost 50 years apart, and one in northern Italy and the other in the south, the setting is very similar. Poor neighborhoods, where crime is a normal way of life and other prospects are bleak, especially for women. The men are either violent or absent ,and everyone is fending for themselves. Honour is everything and the virtue of girls in particular must be defended.
And in the middle of it all we have two tales of female friendship, and the difficult trajectory into adulthood. Never an easy transition and these young women have it more uphill then most. Breaking out of the mould, trying to avoid becoming a gangster’s pretty girlfriend or their own mothers(or first a gangster’s girlfriend and then like their own mothers) isn’t encouraged. In both these books education is presented as a way out, and in both the girls have about the same talents to begin with(here many will say that Lila is smarter then Lénu which is fair but then she is telling the story and doesn’t always acknowledge her own gift). But life isn’t always about merit, we are thrown in different directions and we are also products of our environment, and have to act accordingly, in short make the best of the hand we are given.
I thought both these books wonderful even though I will say that Steel left a bigger impression, though that could be because I read it first and because that is all there is; as much as I wonder about what happened to Anna and Francesca there is no follow up. The writing in both is very detailed, meandering and without much of a plot. I thought them best read when I could devote a lot of time to it;not for the commute these two. And when I continue with the quartet, and continue I will, I will do so when I have more time.
I’m note sure why the Ferrate-books are so hyped; they are tenderly written with so much love and sympathy for the characters but then again, maybe I’ll get Ferrante fever as I progress. It’s a very good book that defiantly draws the reader in, but not the book that I will be raving about trying to get everyone to read(and besides most people have already read it) but it’s a very good beachside companion. I have to say that so far it reminds me,in style, to A little life.