Bildungsroman is a romantic sounding word. It is "a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character." A quote from the New Yorker describes My Brilliant Friend as a "large, captivating, amiably peopled bildungsroman," and I'd say that's fairly accurate. I'd liken it to a modern, Italian, better written version of Pride and Prejudice. This isn't a perfect comparison. Unlike Pride and Prejudice, I actually enjoyed this book. There are also some other differences. But first, some similarities. Both plots are centered around the lives of courtable women; romance plays a major role in the lives of these women; plots advance along with romantic relationships, and relationships advance family wealth and value; relationships are used as a launching pad for major themes. These are fairly general similarities. Based on this criteria, I could be comparing Bend it like Beckham with the life of my grandma. I think it was ch. 16 that really put Pride and Prejudice (which, by the way, is the only Jane Austen novel I've ever read) into my mind. In this chapter, Lila dances with a variety of boys, many of whom are either interested in her, protective of her, jealous of someone who is interested in her, or some combination of the above. Vague images of Elizabeth and Darcy dancing to a piano immediately sprung to my mind some ten minutes later. Basically, my brain tends towards simplifying both these novels into "girls talking about and maybe dancing with boys who they then start dating."
There are, however, some major differences. As aforementioned, Pride and Prejudice is really boring. This book is pretty entertaining. Second, the writing is much better. It's not just "and she said this and he said that and she looked and him and he wasn't looking and her mom was being stupid and her dad said nothing etc. etc. etc." I will note that Elena Ferrante really likes to throw a crapton of commas into her sentences:
When the two young men returned, interrupting our conversation, Pasquale confessed, laughing, that he had left the work site without saying anything to the boss, so he had to go back right away. (130)
That's five in one - not too bad for just flipping to a random page. It's not a negative per se, just a certain style. It can get a little jumbled at times if you're not used to it though. Third, the "major themes" I mentioned earlier are different. Whereas Pride and Prejudice talks about pride and prejudice, My Brilliant Friend is about family heritage and tradition. More specifically, it depicts the life of someone raised in a very specific environment, where people go on to lead very specific lives, and asks the question: can she break free? What is it like to try? How does an old generation raise a new one?
There are small moments of bittersweetness contained throughout the book, which reads slightly like a journal from someone who is straining to remember. The feeling of missing an old friend when she's standing right in front of you, of barely remembering someone while they hug you tightly, of hating a parent that a sibling adores - all these are captured and stated in simple yet moving ways. Here are some quotes that may or may not be unrelated to anything I have previously said.
Marisa threw her arms around my neck with an enthusiasm I would never have expected: in all those years I had never, absolutely never, thought of her, while she said she had often thought of me with great nostalgia. (213)
But the violence of those few carefully constructed sentenced hurt me. Nino hated his father with all his strength, that was why be talked so much about the Karamazovs. But that wasn't the point. What disturbed me profoundly was that Donato Sarratore, as far as I had seen with my own eyes, heard with my own ears, was not repellent, he was the father that every girl, every boy should want, and Marisa in fact adored him. (221)
[about Lila's writing] ...she left no trace of effort, you weren't aware of the artifice of the written word. I read and I saw her, I heard her. The voice set in the writing overwhelmed me, enthralled me even more than when we talked face to face: it was completely cleansed of the cross of speech, of the confusion of the oral... (227)
I had never seen her naked, I was embarrassed. Today I can say that it was the embarrassment of gazing with pleasure at her body, of being the not impartial witness of her sixteen-year-old's beauty a few hours before Stefano touched her, penetrated her, disfigured her, perhaps, by making her pregnant. At the time it was just a tumultuous sensation of necessary awkwardness, a state in which you cannot avert the gaze or take away the hand without recognizing your own turmoil, without, by that retreat, declaring it, hence without coming into concfict with the undisturbed innocence of the one who is the cause of the turmoil... (312)
This book is an easy and fast read. There are three other books in the series, and while I hadn't the strongest urge to read the next right after finishing the first, I think I'll get around to it. There's nothing about the book that blew me away, no specific passages that I stopped to read again and again. But it's interesting, relatable, and the characters stick with you (their names are repeated so many times it's kind of inevitable). There's romance and drama and dissatisifcation with life, and that's enough to satisfy me.