Have you ever had a Brilliant Friend?

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.


  1. Oh thank you for the thoughts, the book review and the chance to ‘meet’ you… not sure I am brave enough to do my own video but now you’ve made me want to give it a try 😊 I have had a few brilliant friends. One made me feel dowdy and decidedly ‘unclever’. It would take me many, many years to understand that the only way that person could shine was to purposely stand beside someone who didn’t. Another brilliant friend of mine fit in EVERYWHERE with EVERYONE. His light simply radiated out. You felt smarter, funnier, more talented simply by being with him. I love posts that have me thinking for days. THIS one definitely did that 😊😊😊

    1. Thanks for such a detailed reply. There is something about brilliant people that makes us question who we are…or shines a special light, in the best case. As to the video.. normally it’s hard to participate online because my internet’s in a shed on a rural property… but am sojourning in the city right now. Luxury!

  2. Yup, I had one of those friends! I read this one a couple years ago and really liked it. I have since read the next book in the series and am trying to get to the third one except other books keep getting in the way.

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