Sunday 23 April 2017

No satisfactory ending

My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels #1) "[-] conceived and written as a single narrative. It's division into four hefty volumes was decided when I realized that the story [-] couldn't easily be contained in one book."

I wish I'd read that quote by author Elena Ferrante before beginning My Brilliant Friend.

It starts, as so many books do now, at some unspecified point in the future. A mystery is posed. Raffaella Cerullo, aka Lina, aka Lila, has disappered. Her friend Elena says, "It's been at least three decades since she told me that she wanted to disappear without leaving a trace". The reader is drawn into the story in the hope of finding a resolution at the end of it. Most of my disappointment with My Brilliant Friend stems from the failure to resolve this mystery once the end is reached. And it's important, I think, to know this beforehand.

The story is told from the point of view of Elena, an intelligent girl from a poor family and neighbourhood in Naples. Elena recounts her life and that of her best friend Lila, up to the age of 16. Both girls attend formal elementary education, but their paths diverge; one is able to continue at school, the other not.

I connected with the characters of the two girls immediately and rooted for them throughout the book. The macho posturing of the male characters made me angry. The insulated setting aroused my own memories of wanting to escape a life that seemed fenced in by the expectations of society.

So, I was drawn into the story, searching the narrative for clues as to how the mystery posed in the Prologue would resolve. The last page left me hanging, feeling cheated and deflated. I would have to buy a further three volumes to reach a satisfactory ending.

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