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chris-l



Joined: 27 Nov 2008
Posts: 727



PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2017 8:48 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

Sandraseahorse wrote:
Rarely has there been such unanimity as at our book group this week.  Everyone struggled with Elena Ferrante's "My Brilliant Friend."  This depictions of two girls, Lila and Elena, growing up in Naples in the 1950s has won rave reviews but it didn't get a warm response from any of us.

All of us found it difficult to follow who was who among the myriad characters (especially if you read it on a Kindle which made it difficult to turn back to the character list at the beginning).  We all became confused with the family relationships in the various large extended families.  All of us found the section on the two girls' childhood a hard slog as it just seemed to consists of lots of incidents in great detail but not necessarily in chronological order.  Everyone said they would have given up if it hadn't been a book club read (some said they would have stopped at about page 100 while others said they would have gone on to around page 150).

We all agree that the book improved in the last quarter and it even started to become interesting when it suddenly came to an abrupt stop.  Despite the way it improved towards the end, none of us felt like reading the other three books in the series.

I don't think I am giving away any spoilers by revealing that the book starts with Lila's son telling Elena that her friend has disappeared and Elena speculates on why Lila might have gone missing.  At the end of the book we still don't know why she has gone (the book only goes up to when the girls are 16) and I presume you have to read the series to find out.

None of us liked the main characters; one woman said she felt Lila was a "spoilt little madam" and even though I sympathised with Elena's desire to achieve good academic results, the reader has to endure so many continuous references to what grades she got for Latin, etc,. that I just became bored with the irritating swot.  

The only things there were disagreements about in my group were minor issues; one person felt it was a good translation but three of us said the translation was poor as the many Americanisms jarred and it gave little flavour of the Neapolitan dialect.

One person pointed out something I had noted - that there was little reference to food which is surprising given that food is such a key part of Italian life.  One member of the group said they were probably too poor to live on anything except bread and jam.  However, afterwards I thought that pride in putting a tasty meal on the table is such a part of the Italian psyche that I was sure that the women would be able to produce something tasty from basic ingredients of tomatoes, pasta, rice, onions, beans  etc.


What made the experience so infuriating was that so many of us had really been looking forward to this read.  All the ingredients were there; it is set in Italy ( a country I love), it is a coming-of-age novel (which usually I find interesting) and the theme of people trying to make something of their lives from an impoverished background and in an area where the criminal organisation the Camora is all-pervasive is a fascinating one.  But despite these ingredients, for me the mixture failed to rise (like various cakes I've baked in the past).

I note that a two-part adaptation of this series of books has just opened at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames.  I won't be going.


I was interested in this, as I have a friend who has been urging me to read the Ferrantes books for a while now. I had been on the point of giving in (Kindle versions), now I am not so sure.. Maybe if I find them in paperback somewhere? I like to think that I am open to new authors, and new influences, but on the other hand, life is short, I don't want to waste too much of it on duds.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2934


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 5:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Our bookclub was ambivalent about our latest book - The Underground Girls of Kabul.  I think I have already written somewhere about the premise of this book - that in Afghanistan often girls are brought up as boys and though it is known about it still raises the family's status to have a 'boy' in the family.  

The writer, Jenny Nordberg, is also ambivalent about the effects on the young girls especially when they are turned back into boys when they reach puberty.  She felt it might be detrimental to their mental and emotional health, but the reactions of the young women themselves were mixed.  Some were delighted to be allowed to be feminine, some resigned, some actively resisted.  And she interviewed at least one who just refused to turn back into a woman - she did have her father's support.  

I found the chapter on other cultures who had this custom interesting.  Especially Albania, which has apparently modernised in the last few years and the women there no need to dress up as men.  We thought it was a dreadful situation where girls are so little valued, but the book itself was interesting. The author thought until men accepted women and understood that their economic contribution was valuable the situation would not change.  She also thought it was to men's feelings of self worth and their fear of women's power (if they were able to have economic wealth) that the system would be difficult to change.  We thought (or at least I did) that people in countries under siege or constant warfare were too fearful to raise their heads above the parapets - I liken it to Europe in WWII, where you do all you can to keep your family and yourself safe. Some of the men in this book (not that we saw many of them, since men and women don't really mix in Afghanistan) did talk about how they realised the situation was awful for their children, but they were powerless to do anything about it.  

We are hopeful that our next book will be less depressing!  It is Reach by Laurence Fearnley (who is a woman). She has written various books, but usually with rural outsiders as the main characters.


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Mikeharvey



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 3339


Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 12:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have never been in a Book Group.  I don't like having to read to order. I much prefer the serendipity of my own extensive book collection (many unread because I'm a book addict and buyer) and reading what ever title floats up next.......


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Sandraseahorse



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 1145



PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2017 7:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mikeharvey wrote:
I have never been in a Book Group.  I don't like having to read to order. I much prefer the serendipity of my own extensive book collection (many unread because I'm a book addict and buyer) and reading what ever title floats up next.......


I've heard several people say that, Mike, and it is a view I respect but I've belonged to one book group and then its successor for 17 and a half years now. In that time there have been about half a dozen books I really couldn't finish and a similar number I resented having to read (one by Edwina Currie springs to mind and also "The Maid of Buttermere" by Melvyn Bragg).  However, possibly a similar number I would never have thought of reading but I enjoyed once I became engaged.

The book group helped me to make friends when I was new to the area and at times we have had some fascinating discussions.



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