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My Brilliant Friend

The Neapolitan Novels, Book 1
Written by: Elena Ferrante
Narrated by: Hillary Huber
Length: 12 hrs and 38 mins
4 out of 5 stars (81 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A modern masterpiece from one of Italy's most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila, who represent the story of a nation and the nature of friendship. 

The story begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets, the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow - and as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge - Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists. 

With My Brilliant Friend, the first in a series, Ferrante proves herself to be one of Italy's greatest storytellers. She has given her listeners a masterfully plotted pause-resister, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations - a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new listeners to her work.

©2012 GO Team! Enterprises (P)2015 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the critics say

"Hillary Huber's subtly shaded performance couldn't be better as she reveals the complexities that separate and connect the two women.... Huber's delivery of this well-plotted, absorbing story of friendship will leave listeners wanting more." (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A Real Surprise.

I chose this book in a bit of a hurry because I had 6 credits waiting in my #Audible1 basket. Since I happen to have a brilliant friend, it made sense.

I listened every morning on my pilgrimage (as I pretend I’m walking the Camino de Santiago) and was pleasantly surprised. I found myself returning to my childhood with memories of my own.

This story of the lives of two young girls, revolves around post WW2 Italy. It is an historical novel, told from their perspective, from their innocence to maturity.

It is a winner, narrated by an accomplished reader, and worthy of commendation for my discriminating book club.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

weakest of the series

This is a very interesting book as it deals with a friendship that is 'unusual' from what one usually reads in novels. Of the four neapolitan novels, I found this the least interesting, but it did help to build the 'foundation' for the rest of the novels, and I think as a series it is very good and very interesting.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Great listen

Great story, but a bewildering number of character names, since so many had nicknames. I needed to go to the print book to check on who was who. But the world of 1950's Naples is compelling and the narrator was excellent.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Italian words pronounced with Spanish pronunciation

This really spoiled my mood to listen. That should have been the first thing to ensure: pronounce the Italian names right. It’s a book about Naples! She is pronouncing the names with a Spanish pronunciation.

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Brilliant!

A captivating story of two lives bound together by childhood and the wish to thrive in an environment that's very unforgiving. The detailed descriptions of everyday life, emotions, experiences and inner thoughts are interesting and never boring. The story is captivating from beginning to end. It leaves you with a sense of 'a life lived through others' . It's excellent! We listened to this on our car on a long road trip - and we never noticed the many hours that went by!

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Settle in!

Once I settled into the pace another world in amazing detail opened up. An amazing book in simple language.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Had to read for a class

Not a big fan of this one. Found it tame and pretty boring. The story was engaging at times but overall uneventful. Had to write a paper on it but felt there wasn't much to talk about in this book. If you like books that surround a group of people in a town going about daily life and struggles then this is for you, if you don't then avoid at all costs

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Captivating.

I could not stop until I finished it. The characters reminded me people I once knew. I can't wait to start the next one.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • W Perry Hall
  • 2016-09-14

Parte Uno Dei Quattro--It's Worth it to Keep Goin'


I thought I'd chime in on this little novel to say to readers this first part of the so-called Neapolitan novels is worth reading to get to the really good stuff in parts 2, 3 and 4. Do NOT Give Up. I thought about abandoning this about halfway through it. I found books 2-4 addictive.

The author considers the 4 parts as just one novel (it was divided by the publisher into 4 parts). As such, it's really hard to rate My Brilliant Friend as a novel on its on. No doubt, one must read this to fully appreciate and enjoy parts 2, 3 and 4. Here, all the characters and conflicts are introduced as is the poor and violent neighborhood on the Naples outskirts, in itself a character as a magnet where the families live and so many things happen over the course of the books, as it stands at the foot of the infamous Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano on mainland Europe.

Think of it like this: can you think of a great lengthy novel that if you read only 1/4 of it as a stand-alone novel, you'd love it and give it 5 stars. This wasn't written, or intended, to be read as a novel. This one, very similar to the first 1/4 of all really good lengthy novels, is mostly setup, introductions, character development up to, well, up to the teen years of the two main characters.

Viewed as one novel, it's a bildungsroman following the lives of Elena (called “Lenù”) Greco (the novel is told in the first person recollections of Elena) and her razor-sharp, but enigmatic, best friend Raffaella (“Lila”) Cerullo, from childhood, here in My Brilliant Friend, to adulthood.

I'd give this 3 stars as a stand-alone. Yet since it's really the first part of a single novel, I'll give it 4 stars because I'd give the novel an overall 4.5.

The narrator takes a little getting used to, but you'll find that she's perfect as you get into books 2, 3 and 4.

134 of 137 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Joe Kraus
  • Kingston, PA, United States
  • 2015-09-18

Sweetly Dense and Focused

Any additional comments?

Ferrante seems like the "it" writer of the moment, so I gave this a shot because so many are talking about her. Expecting greatness -- maybe a Nobel candidacy -- I came into this in a demanding mood, and it mostly delivered. In its way, it's a "small" novel, a story that's confined to a handful of characters trapped in the same small neighborhood.

That claim hardly does it justice, though. It's rich in characterization and hunger, and it's a coming-of-society story as much as it is a coming-of-age one. I'm weak on my post-War Italy history, but it's clear that the protagonist is growing into adulthood just as Italy is shaking off the legacy of World War II. There's some explicit talk of building a new society, of forgetting the trajectory of the old ways, and then there are some powerful descriptions of how difficult it is to become someone other than your parents' child.

In the same way, I find this a striking feminist novel, too. The narrator's friendship with Lila is powerful and interesting. They're "frenemies" as much as best friends, and each undercuts the other's ambitions and hopes as often as she supports them. It's a great glimpse, as a male, at the very different dynamic that I've heard my wife and others describe in some of their friendships.

So, I love all that, but there are a few downsides.

First, the narrative is quiet and slow. I found I got hungry for more events, even small ones, but much of what happens is anticipation. Again, that's clever, but I'd like to have seen it culminate in more than it does.

Second, and this may be the same point from a different angle, it doesn't really end. That is, the next book in the cycle seems less a sequel than a continuation. I'm tempted to read it -- I am interested enough in the characters to want to know what becomes of them -- but I'm also ready (for now at least) for a change of pace.

So, on balance, I like this a lot and reserve the right to love it after I get to see more of what follows.

126 of 134 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Allison Modafferi
  • 2017-05-11

Well read except for jarring mispronunciations

I enjoyed this book a lot, except for the crazy, jarring mispronunciations of the character Lila's name. We learn that her name (Lee-la) is also Raphaela (which she is never called) and Lena (which she is sometimes called) but the reader also pronounces Lila as LIE-la numerous times, and even Lee-lo. Sometimes she pronounces her name two different ways in the same sentence!

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Leslie Epstein
  • 2016-06-21

How not to read Ferrante

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Yes, though I'd try to find another reader--or just read the book yourself.

What was one of the most memorable moments of My Brilliant Friend?

Losing the doll and trying to challenge the man who stole it. Not to mention the startling last line.

What didn’t you like about Hillary Huber’s performance?

Ms,. Huber over-interprets almost every line (save for the well read but sparse dialogue). Worse, she skews it toward the charming, the moving, the sentimental, the cute, the humorous--all this in an author who casts an unwavering, clear-eyed gaze on her Neapolitans. The listener is in a constant cringe as the reader insists we understand how poignant or wry or touching every moment is. In all my years of listening to audio books, I've never heard an interpretation that so compulsively forbids me from responding on my own. As I said, she reads the dialogue well: but the book is ninety percent narrative. And in that ninety percent, we are in big trouble.

Was My Brilliant Friend worth the listening time?

Yes, but see my objections to cringe-inducing reader.

Any additional comments?

I suspect I am doomed to hearing the entire series in this cloying interpretation. Oh, well.
For the opposite sort of reading of a very great book, listen to the audible edition PARADE'S END. A model of how to go about the task.

22 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • BHL
  • NY, United States
  • 2015-07-21

Candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature?

Yes, Ferrante is that good. Everyone who was ever a girl, particularly one born before 1960, should read this book ..... That is, anyone who has been admired as pretty and has felt ugly; anyone who is the apple of a parent's eye and has been misunderstood by one; anyone who has been praised by a teacher and has been demeaned by one; anyone who has excelled and has failed; anyone who has used a boyfriend or girlfriend and has been used by one; anyone who has exceeded her potential and hasn't. Need I go on?

Ferrante has her pulse on what it has meant to become a woman (and live as one in later volumes) in a post-WWII western world, constrained by society (family, friends, neighborhood) and resources (usually limited); in this case, the subject just happens to live in Naples, Italy.

No matter that the narrator may have (did she?) mispronounced Italian words and the names Lila / "Lena"/ Elena get mixed up ... Her voice embodies the intimate world view that the author intended.

No matter whether or not you were a girl .... You are human aren't you? ... Read it.

85 of 98 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • 2tflut
  • 2017-07-28

Too Histrionic!

There was a prologue, but the story didn't explain the outcome. Maybe I'm too simpleminded, but I didn't recognize a plot in this book. The storyline was the girl going on and on of her life until the age of 16, that's it. Maybe that's why the book was loaded with over reactions to almost everything that happened. I lived in Naples for 3 years and I thought I might enjoy this book. I didn't.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • Sara
  • 2016-02-18

Children In Naples

There are so many wonderful reviews for this series so decided to give it a try. For me, it just didn't work. The story was a very slow and detailed but at the same time sketchy look at life from a child's perspective. The reader was plodding and had an edge to her voice that was almost sarcastic? The whole thing just seemed off to me. I was never engaged or caught up in the story being told. It's hard for me to pinpoint the issue as either writing or narration. In the end, probably a bit of each. Can't recommend.

93 of 112 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Patricia Ziegler
  • Mill Valley, CA
  • 2015-07-05

Friendship and Class

In this mesmerizing narrative about the friendship between two girls in a working class district of Naples, the author examines the influences of wealth, education, history and revenge on the social strata of the town and explores how the hunger for freedom expresses itself differently in each character.

16 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Kathleen McNamee
  • 2015-09-14

What do people find in this series?

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

People who enjoy reading insubstantial magazine stories and watching soap-operas; not people seeking a thought-provoking book with penetrating insights

Has My Brilliant Friend turned you off from other books in this genre?

Yes and no. I read in their entirety the first three books, largely on the strength of a strong recommendation from a thoughtful friend whose tastes I usually share. I persisted only because of her--if she thought so highly of this series, I must be missing something.I reached the end of Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay Behind this morning, and that's it for me.

How could the performance have been better?

1. The reader lacks nuance entirely. She should have varied her intonation according to context. In every case of disputatious conversation--to give just one example-- her voice dripped with sarcasm. It was the same throughout the three volumes, yet not every such conversation entailed sarcasm! 2.This gave me the strong impression that she had not read the books before performing them: she was just not engaged. She should read and engage with her material before recording it, otherwise the performance is flat and unconvincing. 3. If the reader is performing a book set in Italy, should have learned how to pronounce the few Italian (and, later German) words that came up.

What character would you cut from My Brilliant Friend?

I'm at a loss to say, because the first book sets us up to anticipate that by the end of the saga, we will have learned something interesting and perhaps profound about Lila and Lena. Along the way, a good writer would give us clues about what she has in mind in that regard. But the characters of the two protagonists (ARE they protagonists? I thought so in the first book, but it became less clear thereafter)--and the characters of the others, no less--are undeveloped. Motivations, time after time, are implausible or unintelligible or illogical. One has no sense where this writer is leading us.

Any additional comments?

I wondered frequently whether I would have liked the book better if the reader had been better. I don't think so: in addition to my dissatisfactions noted above, I have to add that the translation is uninspired. Every character uses the same set of words and expressions. "Chiaro?" in Italian is ploddingly translated, time and again, as "Is that clear?" This is not always exactly idiomatic in context.Very disappointing: author, translator, reader.

79 of 97 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Susan M.
  • 2015-05-17

Narration spoils story

After listening to My Brilliant Friend, I won't listen to the sequels. I didn't enjoy the narrator, who repeatedly mispronounced the name of one of the main characters: Leela? Lyla? Lola? Come on now!!! (In the author's defense, friends who READ the book enjoyed it more than I did LISTENING to it.)

83 of 102 people found this review helpful