Kirkus Reviews QR Code
MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Chiara Lagani Kirkus Star


The Graphic Novel from the Novel by Elena Ferrante

by Chiara Lagani ; illustrated by Mara Cerri ; translated by Ann Goldstein

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 2023
ISBN: 9781609459468
Publisher: Europa Editions

Ferrante’s now-classic saga of an enduring yet complex female friendship shape-shifts once again, this time into a graphic novel.

In Lagani’s streamlined adaptation of the first of four Neapolitan novels, Ferrante’s original narrator, Lenù, does double duty as the (fictional) illustrator of the early years in her complicated lifelong friendship with Lila. “Her” drawings, maps, and illustrations trace the girls’ relationship from childhood through Lila’s marriage. Cerri, the actual illustrator, captures the girls’ environments and moods in gestural, atmospheric drawings that convey the menacing atmosphere of postwar Naples as well as the girls’ determination to move beyond the boundaries imposed on them by family, culture, and economic circumstance. This re-envisioned account necessarily telescopes some backstory and motivation but remains faithful to the broad outlines of the character development and Byzantine plot points found in the original. Readers unfamiliar with the works underlying this iteration of the story—Ferrante’s original books and the hit HBO miniseries from which Cerri drew visual inspiration—may find some incidents puzzling to parse, such as schoolgirl Lila’s apparent fall from an apartment window. (Ferrante’s legion of devoted fans will connect the dots between her father’s anger and Lila’s ejection from the window.) Aspects of the narrative that benefit from Cerri’s visual storytelling include the first episode of “dissolving boundaries” that will plague Lila throughout her life and Lenù’s competitive concerns about the differences between the girls’ maturing adolescent bodies. (Cerri previously illustrated Ferrante’s earlier “picture book,” the mordant The Beach at Night, but delivers less nightmarish visions here.) Goldstein, responsible for translating Ferrante’s prior works from Italian into English, continues that heroic undertaking with a sensitive translation of Lagani’s text consistent with the original.

Classics often pale in their retelling, but this homage to Ferrante’s epic shines with its own light.