Ultimately this is a story about friendship, as well as about history and society, about class, about the psychology of women and men alike. But at its core, this book is about two friends who happen to be girls, who happen to grow up in a tough Naples neighbourhood after the war, who at first glance look like they have a lot in common and will their entire lives, until they don't.
Throughout the story, depending on which part of the series you are at, you will be changing your mind about who the brilliant friend is. In the end, everyone could interpret the title differently.
Everything starts when at age 66, Lila disappears, could Elena know where she is? She takes us back in time to show us - through her memories - who her friend really is. Lila and Elena grow up wondering what else is out there, loving books, wanting more, and their ache only gets worse once they start realising how small the environment they are in really is. Their coming of age brings changes they weren't expecting, suddenly they are not treated the same way, suddenly beauty - like money - matters. The transformation they go through is gradual, changing at the same pace the country is evolving. Elena is given the opportunity to study and leave behind those conservative and male dominated values she's been raised into, while Lila- in an unexpected turn of events - is left stuck there. They are both unhappy, Elena feels awkward and out of her depth, wishes she was as charming and seductive as Lila. And Lila envies the opportunities her friend has been given, secretly thinking she would use them better, she expresses her desire for change through the clothes she wears, dressing for the person she wants to be rather than for the life everyone seems to think she's destined to.
Throughout the series, and especially in the first book, it’s very compelling to see how both men and women use clothes, jewellery, hair and make up to show the neighbourhood their social status. In a very closed, backward looking society like the Naples of the 50s, there was no opportunity for speaking out loud, when you had something to say you had to find a different way to express it: for some it was violence, for others it was their appearance. And let’s not forget the shoes, I can’t give away more of the plot but if you decide to read the books, do pay attention to the shoes.
The emotional roller-coaster the narrator takes you on from beginning to end makes you wonder how many autobiographic elements the story must have, characters pop out of nowhere all the time and everyone seems to have something to say.
It's funny how the ending of the first book is clearly the peak of the story, it feels like it should be the conclusion but really it's only the beginning. Only then you have a real understanding of the characters and can maybe try and guess what's going to happen next. I’ve read the four books, I could not put them down.
Follow me on Twitter to carry on the conversation.
Like Colpo D'Occhio's Facebook Page for more content and instant updates.