Would I have given this book the highest score even if I hadn't seen the series first? Would it have impressed me even more, since then the things I had imagined would have found such a suitable visual correspondent? It is certain that the series is one of the most faithful representations of a book I have ever watched, and this only proves how wonderful Elena Ferrante's creation is.
For those who have not seen the series and are curious about the phenomenon of Ferrante fever, from my point of view its tetralogy deserves all the praise. And I have long ignored the existence of the series because, in general, popular books are disappointing, but here that once in a thousand suns there are exceptions. Even more curious is the fact that the author's name is actually a pseudonym, she wants to remain anonymous. Is curious because she wrote so well that it seems almost impossible not to have an autobiography. If I were to believe that everything is even partially fictitious, I would not find words of praise large enough to describe the impression left on me by this first volume of the Neapolitan Tetralogy.
The main character is Elena (called Lenu) who guides us through a kind of diary inside the sixty years of friendship that binds her to Lila, namely Raffaella Cerullo. The two met as children, at school, living in the same poor neighborhood near Naples. Becoming more and more friends, Lenu tells us how she became indispensable to his personal development through the rebellion she showed and her strong, unyielding character. Although their destinies broke up easily, easily, all the chance was such that the protagonist was again drawn into the living and dramatic world of his girlfriend, which he could not give up anyway.
During the school years in the neighborhood, the girls are witnesses or even victims of several aggressions and violence, noticing the constant dissatisfaction of the adults around them, caused by shortcomings and general poverty. None of them is above all at first, and Lila really shines with intelligence, impressing their teacher - hence the title of the novel. Fighting between envy and admiration for her girlfriend, Lenu carries us in their friendship over the years until the age of sixteen.
What Ferrante has managed to do so well is the shaping of the neighborhood and the people who live in it, as well as the relations between them. Some, the richest, believe themselves masters, besides whom others are a kind of humble slaves and live under their tyranny. These are the Solara family, which owns the cafe of the same name, and the Caracci family, which owns the butcher's shop, mainly. Being a small neighborhood, people's jobs are the ones that contribute the most to their identity.
Thus, Lenu, the goalkeeper's daughter and Lila, the carpenter's daughter, observe the social structures and try to adapt. Elena wants more than anything to escape from that environment, and the school is the one that offers her the loophole. After having the opportunity to see something else, her mind does not stop comparing the types of lives and behaviors of the people in the city with those in the neighborhood.
Another thing that came out great to the author and that made me love Elena's narrative voice in the book is the way she expresses her feelings, talks about herself in the past and explains in detail all the psychological stages she went through more or less. of Lila. Although their friendship is the central element of the book and even of the series, the individual stories of the other characters paint a very lively, extremely real place, which absorbs you in a misery easily recognizable to those who were not born into rich families. Especially, I say, to those in the Balkans.
What struck me both in the book and in the series is that all these things happened in the 50s near Naples, which was still a civilized city, the situation is not much different in most suburbs of cities. I was able to empathize even more with Elena's story and the traumas she went through precisely because the scenes described and the censorship of women that existed is not yet the subject of a distant past. The protagonist talks about her insecurities regarding the way she looks and how desirable it is for boys.
Finding a fiancé and later marrying him, forming a family, is the main goal of her friends in the neighborhood, all to become premature housewives. Lenu is the only one who really realizes the injustices around her and tries to overcome her condition. She often wonders if she really deserves more than the usual things that others covet, if her studies will take her somewhere, and if they have any real value.
It is a very psychological, complex and clearly written novel about everything that means to be born in a hostile environment, in which your destiny already seems predetermined. I want nothing more than to read the other three books, to find out the action beyond the series, which I hope will be continued, and to enjoy as much as possible this so strong writing, the innate talent of the one who tells us a story of defeating oppression and maintaining hope.
I recommend the series for the absolutely charming images, especially the scenes from Ischia, for choosing the roles and respecting exactly Ferrante's vision. That's why I say I don't know what it would have been like to do things the other way around, to read the book first, because in each scene I only saw the faces of the two main actresses in the series, as well as the faces of the other actors, who fight to perfection with from the book. An absolute must-read, fascinating, heartbreaking, realistic to the core.