We'll see who wins this time, I said to myself. I turned on the computer and began to write—all the details of our story, everything that still remained in my memory.
This quotation introduces the transition to Elena's memories of her childhood and adolescence. It makes it clear to the readers that the events that follow are a recreation, drawing on her memories. It also brings out the ambivalence of her friendship with Lila: the language of "winning" suggests that she thinks of Lila as a rival, and that she seeks to undermine Lila's attempt at disappearing by documenting their friendship. This framework serves as a reminder to the reader that the events of the novel are not narrated from an objective perspective, and that they may therefore be biased or unreliable.
She seemed the strongest of us girls, stronger than Enzo, than Alfonso, than Stefano, stronger than her brother Rino, stronger than our parents, stronger than all the adults including the teacher and the carabinieri, who could put you in jail. Although she was frail in appearance, every prohibition lost substance in her presence. She knew how to go beyond the limits without ever truly suffering the consequences. In the end, people gave in and were even, however, unwillingly, compelled to praise her.
This quotation reveals Elena's childhood perception of Lila, highlighting both her admiration and her fear of her friend. Gradually escalating comparisons emphasize Lila's strength: the language progresses from comparing her to other children to adult authority figures. A juxtaposition is created between Lila's physical fragility, which is remarked on throughout the novel, and the strength of her will, intellect, and capacity for persuasion. Elena's description of Lila suggests that she envies Lila's ability to avoid consequences, but also creates foreshadowing that someday Lila's recklessness may catch up with her.
No one understood us, only we two—I thought—understood one another. We together, we alone, knew how the pall that had weighed in the neighborhood forever, that is, ever since we could remember, might lift a little if Peluso, the former carpenter, had not plunged the knife into Don Achille's neck, if it was an inhabitant of the sewers who had done it, if the daughter of the murderer had married the son of the victim. There was something unbearable in the things, in the people, in the buildings, in the streets that, only if you reinvented it all, as in a game, became acceptable. The essential, however, was to know how to play, and she and I, only she and I, knew how to do it.
This quotation describes how the violence and chaos that surrounds Lila and Elena in their childhood becomes a shaping factor in their friendship and brings them closer to one another. Lila and Elena grow up in an environment that is threatening and oppressive and that limits their future possibilities. Because they share a similar intellectual and imaginative ability that is not found amongst the other residents of the neighborhood, they take solace in each other's company. The ways in which they reimagine their lives and futures becomes a source of comfort and hope in a life that is otherwise quite grim.
On a single day, I had attracted the attentions of a young man like Pasquale, a new school had opened up before me, and I had discovered that a person who until some time earlier had lived in the neighborhood, in the building across from ours, had published a book. This last fact proved that Lila had been right to think that such a thing could even happen to us. Of course, she had given it up now, but perhaps I, by going to that difficult school called high school, fortified by the love of Pasquale, could write one myself, as Sarratore had done. Who knows, if everything worked out for the best, I would become rich before Lila with her shoe designs and shoe factory.
This quotation reflects a moment of optimism and hope for Elena, when everything seems to be going right in her life. It gives the reader a window onto her values: she hopes to be respected for her intelligence and to be the object of romantic desire, and she also harbors ambitions of some sort of artistic achievement such as writing a book. It also reveals that Elena is often doubtful about whether such dreams are realistic, and it is Lila who has confidence in her ambitions. The quotation also shows Elena's tendency to be competitive with Lila: when she imagines a bright future for herself, she imagines one in which she surpasses and outshines Lila.
I missed only Lila, Lila who didn't answer my letters. I was afraid of what was happening to her, good or bad, in my absence. It was an old fear, a fear that has never left me: the fear that, in losing pieces of her life, mine lost intensity and importance.
This quotation describes Elena's feelings during the summer she spends on Ischia. In part, she is happy and relieved to be leading an independent life outside of the neighborhood, but the quotation shows how she is also haunted by fears about Lila. Because she is often envious of Lila, and used to assuming that Lila's life is more interesting than her own, she imagines that Lila will forget about her. Not only does Elena fear possible abandonment by Lila, she is worried about what that abandonment would mean. Using the metaphor of broken pieces, Elena describes the sense of loss and fragmentation she thinks she would experience without the presence of Lila. The quotation reveals how, even at a moment when Elena's horizons are expanding, she feels a strong tie to her past and to her relationship to Lila.
She had turned suddenly and realized that the big copper pot had exploded. Like that, by itself. It was hanging on the nail where it normally hung, but in the middle there was a large hole and the rim was lifted and twisted and the pot itself was all deformed, as if it could no longer maintain its appearance as a pot.
Here Elena summarizes a letter she received from Lila, in which Lila explains her distress and anxiety about the pressure being placed on her to agree to marry Marcello. When Elena reads the letter, she is filled with envy at the vivid and engaging way that Lila writes. This quotation shows Lila's ability to use symbolism and foreshadowing to heighten the intensity and emotion of what she is describing. The sudden destruction of the pot foreshadows possible threats and dangers to Lila, and the image of its warped and damaged physical body suggests the possibility of sexual violation.
As soon as the boat moved and the island, with its tender early-morning colors, was distant enough, I thought that I finally had a story to tell that Lila could not match. But I knew immediately that the disgust I felt for Sarratore and the revulsion that I had towards myself would keep me from saying anything.
This quotation reveals the perverse power dynamic that exists between Elena and Lila, and how Elena's desire to outshine her friend can become almost obsessive. Elena makes reference to the morning after Donato Sarratore has made sexual overtures to her, and describes her thoughts as she hurriedly returns to Naples. It reveals that she is ashamed and guilty about the experience: she wonders if she had somehow inadvertently encouraged Donato, and also feels conflicted about the pleasure she derived from him kissing her. However, what is truly at the forefront of Elena's mind is what this event will mean for the power dynamic between herself and Lila. Because Elena feels jealous about the sexual allure Lila holds, she partially welcomes the attention from Donato and this increases her sense of ambivalence about the incident.
When you saw her, she gave off a glow that seemed a slap in the face of the poverty of the neighborhood. The girl's body, of which there were still traces when we had woven the plot that led to her engagement to Stefano, was soon banished to dark lands. In the light of the sun, she was instead a young woman who, when on Sundays she went out on the arm of her fiancée, seemed to apply the terms of their agreement as a couple ... she seemed to have discovered the joy of dipping into the inexhaustible well of her beauty.
This quotation describes Lila during the period in which she is engaged to Stefano, enjoying luxuries and the prospect of a bright future. The event of being engaged gives Lila an aura of maturity, and also makes her feel self-assured about her attractiveness, which had previously been a dangerous source of liability. However, the quotation is also partially ironic, in that Lila is still only fifteen years old during this period, and has an exaggerated sense of her own power. Once she marries, she will be largely under her husband's control; in fact, it was as a young girl that she was actually more free.
I had no intention of making things official—we were careful to keep our relationship absolutely hidden—but I wished to keep under control my anxiety about being attractive. I wanted, that day, to feel calm, tranquil, despite my glasses, the modest dress made by my mother, my old shoes and at the same time think: I have everything a sixteen year old girl should have, I don't need anyone or anything.
Here Elena describes why she invites Antonio to accompany her to Lila's wedding. She is not actually in love with him, but she is insecure about being perceived as less attractive and less desirable than other girls her age. In contrast to Lila's striking beauty, Elena feels like something of an ugly duckling. She also wants to be seen as independent and self-sufficient. By showing that Elena debates how best to achieve the effect she wants at the wedding, this quotation reveals that she can be calculating and even manipulative. Since Antonio is in love with her, he would likely be hurt to know why she asked him, but she does so anyways, concerned only with maintaining her own image.
Today I can say that it was the embarrassment of gazing with pleasure at her body, of being the not impartial witness of her sixteen year old's beauty a few hours before Stefano touched her, penetrated her, disfigured her, perhaps, by making her pregnant. At the time it was just a tumultuous sensation of necessary awkwardness, a state in which you cannot avert the gaze or take away the hand without recognizing your own turmoil.
This quotation describes Elena's thoughts and feelings as she helps Lila to bathe on the day of her wedding. First, the quotation reminds readers that there is a gap between what Elena was capable of understanding at the time these events were occurring, and what she has come to see in retrospect. This gap between the past and the insights of the present alerts readers to the possibility of new information being added as Elena reconstructs her memories. The quotation also shows the way Elena is protective and even jealous of Lila: she uses blunt and harsh language to describe the sexual encounter she imagines happening, and presents this as an act of degradation and corruption for Lila, not a joyful consummation of love. It is unclear how Lila feels about her immanent entrance into sexuality, but Elena's feelings are highly negative, perhaps revealing her bias against Stefano.
My Brilliant Friend Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for My Brilliant Friend is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.