My Brilliant Friend
Elena Ferrante
Contributed by Eleanor Sherer

My Brilliant Friend is a saga anchored by geographical features to a very small corner of the city of Naples. The success of the book is stupefying because Elena Ferrante does not promote her books at all. Her identity is a secret to everyone apart from her Italian publisher. In addition, her name is perhaps a pseudonym. No one has ever succeeded in exposing the real name of Elena Ferrante, although several names have been theorized.  

The series called The Neapolitan starts with this novel and has sold nearly 5.5 million copies all over the world, with almost two million sold in the United States. When writing the novels, Elena Ferrante was driven by the need to produce work about honest feelings. In an interview conducted by the Los Angeles Times, Ferrante explains that the book, My Brilliant Friend, might have been inspired by the death of a loved one, or a desire to return to images and themes of previous books, or perhaps a wedding celebration (Didier). She does not provide a specific answer but firmly affirms that her works originate from many pieces of inspiration, that excite the mind. The author states that she does not plan the story in advance before writing. She only plans for the most important aspects of the story, but the rest comes naturally.

Elena Ferrante started the book in 2009 and spent almost a year finishing the whole story. After she finished, Ferrante discovered that the story had expanded, becoming even more detailed. In 2010, due to the number of pages that she had written, describing the adolescence and childhood life of Elena and Lila, who she calls Lenu, her publisher decided that the book should be distributed in several volumes.

Two of Ferrante?s books have been adapted into movies. These include The Days of Abandonment and Troubling Love. The formerwas turned into a film of the same title, directed by Roberto Faeza. The latter, became Nasty Love, directed by Mario Martone. In addition, The Neapolitan novels are currently being adapted into television series co-produced by Wildside an Italian producer for Fandago Productions with Francesco Piccolo leading the screenwriting. In 2018, My Brilliant Friend was turned into a miniseries by the same name and started airing on HBO, as well as Rai Italian networks.


Elena Ferrante is only known as a novelist. Her books were initially written in Italian but translated into different languages including English. In 2016, Time Magazine called Elena Ferrante one of the hundred most influential individuals in the world. ?Delia?s Elevator? was the first of Ferrante?s work to be translated into English and was published in a collection of short stories. The Story of the Lost Child, one of the novels in the Neapolitan quartet, was featured on the New York Times? Ten Best Novels of 2015.

Neapolitan Novels

These novels are a four-part series written by Ferrante and translated by Ann Goldstein. It comprises the following books: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child published in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively. The series was characterized as a coming of age story, or a bildungsroman. The author considered her books to essentially be a single novel but published serially due to their duration and length. The entire series contains a narrative of two intelligent and perceptive girl, Elena and Lila, with all the books narrated from Elena Greco?s point of view. This study guide will focus on the first book in the series. However, in this section, a synopsis of the other three books will be presented.

Synopsis of The Story of a New Name

Lila is emotionally distant from Stefano during their marriage. Stefano assaults her on their wedding night, causing the rift between them to grow. The Solara?s assume control over the profitable shoe business and Lila, in spite of her anger and repulsion, is made to assist them with the shop.

As Lila continue to rebel in various ways, both her in-laws and her family worry that she is not getting pregnant. Her doctor thinks the problems are due to stress and recommends that she takes a vacation. Lila, afraid to be left alone with her sister and mother-in-law, talks Elena into accompanying her. Elena, who, in the meantime is still performing well in school and is still infatuated with Nino Sarratore, agrees, on the condition that they go to a specific beach resort, hoping to find Nino there. Elena is unaware of the fact that Nino has no romantic interest in her whatsoever and that he is merely jealous of her talented writing skills. Shockingly, Nino and Lila fall in love and begin an affair. They even use Elena as a common confidante, this in turn makes Elena finally accept Donato Sarratore?s advances because she feels dejected.

As Lila?s vacation ends, she finally gets pregnant, and she plans to live happily with Nino. However, their relationship is brief, Nino again resenting Lila?s intellect and leaves her. Lila, in the end, returns to Stefano, her husband. After she gives birth to her child, she is obsessed with the notion putting her son through education and begins to teach him how to read and write. Lila finally decides to leave Stefano after she discovers his affair with Ada Capuccio. She elopes with Enzo, a friend from her childhood. They settle in a small, rundown neighborhood where Enzo promises to love and protect her.

Elena then graduates from high school but has no plans for her future. After finding out about a free college in Pisa, she passes their tests and begins higher education. Elena has a troublesome time there, due to her poor status and the fact that she has become sexually active. In the end, she meets Pietro Airota, who is an unbalanced, dry, yet kind and legitimate academic from an affluent family. The two develop a relationship, and when she graduates, Airota proposes to her, and she accepts. Prior to graduation, Elena composes a short story based on her life which contains a fictionalized narration of the night she lost her virginity to Donato Sarratore. She gives the story to Airota as a gift who in turn gives it to his mother, who then presents it to a publishing company. This story results in critical acclaim and financial success for Elena. Unfortunately, nobody from her neighborhood talks about the story or even comments about it except on the sections about her loss of virginity.

Synopsis of Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Prior to her marriage, Elena briefly sees Lila and discovers that she has been working in a sausage processing plant where she is always sexually harassed and abused. Lila has begun to fall in love with her childhood friend Enzo, however, she doesn?t allow their relationship to be intimate scared of the possibility that she may get pregnant again. After Elena helps her get a contraceptive pill, she consummates her engagement to Enzo. In the meantime, Elena, who never wanted to get pregnant before writing another book, does indeed get pregnant. A couple of years pass by, and Elena manages to write another book before she gives birth to her second child. However, after Adele and Lila tell her that her book falls short of expectations, she abandons the project and decides to become a full-time mother and wife.

Elena bumps into Nino after they come back home with her husband. She realizes that she is still infatuated with him, in spite of the fact that Nino ended their relationship after his affair with Lila. Motivated by her interest in Nino, she writes a feminist story which Adele finds worthy of publishing. Nino and Elena then begin an affair; she discovers that her husband Pietro does not make her happy and finally decides to leave him.

Elena confides in Lila and tells her that she plans to have a relationship with Nino, something Lila objects to. Even though she discovers that her child, whom she thought was Nino?s, is biologically Stefano?s, Lila still resents Nino and sees him as a wasteful and worthless person. Lila?s fortunes however are on the rise: she and Enzo now work as programmers. Lila is enticed to work for Michele Solara, who is still obsessed with her, to the extent that he will pay her an extravagant sum of money. Elena also discovers that her younger sister is sleeping with one of the Solara brothers.

Synopsis of The Story of the Lost Child

Following months of hardship, Elena prevails and leaves Pietro for good. Nonetheless, Lila informs her that in spite of his promises to leave his wife, Nino is still married. Elena chooses to take Nino as he is and decides moves with her little girls to Naples so she can be nearer to him. She then falls pregnant with Nino?s child at the same time that Lila and Enzo conceive. The two friends give birth to girls. Lila names her daughter Tina, the name of Elena?s long-lost doll, while Elena names her daughter after her own mother, who succumbed to cancer not long after the birth of her granddaughter. Overwhelmed with the responsibilities inherent in raising three little girls, Elena gets into financial problems, even though she gets support from Pietro and Nino. Elena finds Nino sleeping with a housekeeper and Lila informs her that he has been having sex with other women, even when he was in a relationship with her. Sickened by his behavior, Elena, at last, finds the courage to leave Nino for good.

Amidst this turmoil, Elena resolves to complete the third book she had been contractually obliged to write, however having no time, she sends her publisher the book she wrote when she was pregnant with her second child, a not so subtle account of her youth. Anticipating that it would be rejected, Elena is surprised when the published is rather supportive and considers it an incredible work.

With the help of the publisher, Elena and her children move into a flat directly above Lila. She begins to see that the neighborhood had changed from her childhood days. Numerous individuals, including Elena?s own siblings, work for the Solara family, using and selling drugs while Lila is viewed as a sort of guardian angel in the area. She is the only person who can confront the Solara family and hires people to work for her in the computer business, assisting them to escape the drug world.

Elena?s book causes inconvenience for the Solaras when one newspaper uncovers that it contains fictionalized records of their illicit dealings. The Solara family files a lawsuit, and their hold on the neighborhood appears to be more intense than ever. After Michele harms Lila, Lila decides to give all the evidence of their illicit dealings to Elena and together they compose a report, detailing the wrongdoings of the Solara family. Elena understands this will do nothing to stop them; however, Lila ensures that it is published and becomes frustrated when the only thing the article does is make Elena even more famous.

Not long after, Lila?s daughter goes missing, a disappearance that Enzo feels has something to do with the Solara family. Lila cannot give up hope and prays that her daughter will, one day, return.

Elena and Lila are progressively alienated from each other and Lila begins to lose hope about finding her little girl. Lila develops an obsession with the historical backdrop of Naples and the recurrent nature of human life. Perceiving the appearing inconsequentiality of everything, it somehow dawns on her that she should disappear without leaving a trace, something she understands would be very hard due to the increasing prevalence of computers. Decades pass, and Elena, writes a small novel about their friendship. Eventually Lila completely shuts Elena out of her life and disappears. One day Elena receives a package, inside are the two dolls that they lost when they were children. The significance of this is uncertain.

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