|The two girls in HBO's rendition of My Brilliant Friend|
The novel was also a reminder – to me – of how much more socially adept women are than men … how extraordinarily calibrated they are, at least in this world, to status, alliances, secrets, slights, desperate hidden loves.
I have stayed in these working class areas of Naples, and this novel is a compelling glimpse of the desperation of that supremely dysfunctional city in the shadow of the volcano Vesuvius.
Those of us who like Lenu were readers and good at school, often had a friend like Lila … someone shrewd, glamorous, cunning, but unwilling to turn those native gifts into academic success.
Working class, or with parents who had no particular professional ambitions for their child, such a person helped burnish our more mundane lives – and such people are attracted to bright nerds because of our seriousness, professional aspirations, more expansive ambitions.
Perhaps this story is the tale of the working class suburbs of great European cities more generally: Kings Cross, London, where I spent ten years in my 20s and 30s was notable for its wars between clans, beatings between family members … feuds that could only be settled with shocking savagery. The Cockneys and Neapolitans have quite a bit in common – spontaneous, affectionate, quick to anger – prone to settle grudges with breath-taking violence.
|Lenu on children ...|
In our atomised, alienated urban centres, My Brilliant Friend creates a nostalgia for cities that used once to be collections of fiercely loyal neighbourhoods – urban hamlets – where everyone knew everyone else’s business, and gossip was king.