Have you ever tried out for Mensa?
I did their online quiz once. You get three minutes to answer twenty questions or something – if you pass, you’re in the top one percent.
I failed. But I once had a friend who passed, and so was entitled to go to meetings of super bright people and talk about physics or chess moves or whatever. After the first one, she stopped going because she said they were boring, charmless and (in the case of the men) probably had small penises.
I was naturally pleased to hear that. We were superior to those nerdy geniii. We were sexy, fascinating, vivacious. Well… she was.
The critically acclaimed novel My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante follows an almost obsessive friendship between Elena – busty, academically bright, hard working – and Lila, intense, brilliant and beautiful without trying. Whatever Lila is, Elena yearns to be; her achievements have meaning only if Lila is in the race.
Set in 1950s working class Naples, there’s plenty of violence, screaming and patriarchy. The novel has the intimate feel of someone taking directly from life, but literarying it up. It’s absorbing but a touch try hard, as if – in order for this to be literature – people and situations must be transformed into high art so we don’t quite recognise them. For instance, when Lila decides to erase every trace of herself at 70, for some abstruse reason. As you do…
We don’t like to admit to envy, it’s too close to the bone. But like Elena, I’m envious. Of my pretty, clever friend (worse, she didn’t even care that she was pretty and clever!) And of Elena, the novelist. I mean, how many indie novelists can even approach the foothills of the literary pedestal she’s on, and for good reason.
Anyway, I’ve never been anyone’s Brilliant Friend – perhaps the Eccentric Friend, or the Sweet but Plain Friend? That’s fine, I’m old enough to be good with that.
Anyway, here’s me reading an excerpt from My Brilliant Friend on YouTube, complete with review and some burbling.