I do not know who Elena Ferrante is – nor does anyone for that matter – but she has written a series of novels that have latched into my heart and brain and will stay there. Like other characters in books that I love, the characters are what stay with me. If a writer can create a story around people who you forget are fictional, they have done a great job indeed.

I am not one to retell the plot in my reviews. Instead I like to get right into it.

First of all, the covers. They always say not to judge a book by its cover and honestly I judged these and judged them hard. I’ve seen them in my local bookstore many times, but skipped over them because, frankly, they look like boring Chick-Lit. Not that there is anything wrong with Chick-Lit – I used to be a huge Emily Giffin fan in my early 20s – but it is not a genre I enjoy anymore because I can never relate to or sympathize with the characters.  With these covers I assumed that they would be fluff, written about women who are cliche and lead boring lives.

I was way wrong.

I had heard a few podcasts mention how great these were but I was skeptical. Finally, while visiting someone in Ohio, I stopped off at an independent bookshop determined to buy something to lend my support. I saw “My Brilliant Friend” (Book 1)  on display in the center of the store. As my husband tried to rush me out, I thought, “Why not?” I took it to the register and walked out with the book in hand. It took me a few weeks to begin reading it and once I did I couldn’t stop.

I read the first three novels back-to-back with other shorter books in between. I did not start on the fourth right away because I wanted to savor the last book, these characters and the story Ferrante weaved.

The characters are flawed in a very real way. Every single person you feel like you could know or have known, could be a neighbor or even someone in your own family. Hell, they could even be yourself.  I found myself rooting for and against every character, even the “bad guys.” In my opinion there were no good or bad guys. There were, of course, more obvious bad guys but when it came down to the root of the story, everyone was trying to survive the best way they knew how and the only way they knew how.

They all embarked on lives, careers, marriages, and parenthood in a way that is honest.  People fall on hard times, people grow apart and back together, marriages happen out of convenience or out of trying to escape. We have all had a friend we loved but also hated, felt safe with and feared, celebrated yet resented.  We’ve all idolized people or a life we long for, the what-could-have-beens and the what-should-have -beens.

This book has all of those things and so much more.

The Neapolitan Novels are not filled with jaw-dropping moments (although, I admit, I did at least once), I doubt anyone will cry their eyes out. I also believe that these are autobiographical novels…. But what will capture you are how real these people and their stories are. The plot is not one that is a “what happens next!” kind but somehow Ferrante kept me engaged so deeply that I felt I was in Naples, Italy growing up along side Lila and Elena. I felt their pain, their loss, their struggles, their joys, their lust, their anger…all of it.

When I read the last pages and last sentences, I felt like I had experienced an entire life. In fact, these novels span and entire lifetime from a very young age to old age. I’ve read a few books like this (most recently “Panchinko”) but none have done it so successfully as these novels. They are deep and engaging.

If you are looking for a real, gritty, honest set of novels about two female friends and their lifetime together, this is for you. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

I would not call myself a “traveler” nor would I classify it as a hobby. I do love to visit new places but I don’t want to “see the world.” I am blessed to live in a country that is expansive and filled with interesting cities, people, and history in their own right. Although all of this is within my reach, most of my travel within the United States has been strictly East Coast.

I have traveled to Europe. In 1999, at the age of 14,  I visited Paris and London. For my honeymoon in 2015, my husband and I took a tour of Ireland.  I’ve been to the Bahamas twice and Punta Cana. You could say that there are lots of places to check off on my list but one thing always struck me: there is a huge country just to the west of me and I want to see it!

One of the places on my list was California, but not the typical L.A., Hollywood, Beverly Hills visit. I wanted to see the Pacific Ocean and The Redwoods. After a few weeks, my husband booked and planned out our entire trip. We would fly into San Francisco, drive up the coast to Mendocino, down to Gualala and back home through San Fran Airport. 

 

As we drove up the winding coast, I would look at my phone – as one does out of habit – and noticed I had zero service. I should note that I do not have any social media apps on my phone except Twitter. That’s right: No Instagram, No Facebook, No Facebook messenger, no Snap Chat…nothing. So my checking my phone was not to check for push notifications but simply to see if I had any text messages or missed calls.

As usual, I had none.

And though I do not have apps on my phone, I will post photos or check Facebook through the web browser. So I would see a beautiful shot like the one above and think, “I need to share this!”

But I couldn’t. And I was OK with that.

My service was spotty at best throughout the 5 days and while I took photos on my phone, it was only because I wanted to capture the moment for myself. My husband had the “Big Boy” camera so I took way more shots on that than my phone.

This trip was last month and I feel ready to write about it and share it. The most remarkable experience was the Redwoods. I do not have photos of those to share now because, frankly, capturing them on a real camera is hard enough let alone of a itty-bitty phone camera. More importantly I didn’t want to. Being in those Redwoods made me feel powerful and powerless all at once. They are powerful, strong, natural structures that you have to see to believe and experience. To look up at a tree and not be able to see the top, knowing it has been there for hundreds and hundreds of years is quite humbling. I didn’t have a life-altering experience with these bad boys, but I realized that having zero service was the best unexpected gift the California coast gave me.

 

Far too often we spend most of our experiences with our phones in our hands and our eyes looking through a screen.  We never take the time to experience life through our eyes and take it as a moment that doesn’t need sharing immediately.  Our “followers” can and should wait. The best moments like the ones “captured” in California would not make the best Instagram shots that would gain me thousands of followers and sponsorships.

 

 

Like in the photo below when I visited Jessica Fletcher’s house. Happening upon this house was a complete accident. It was not until after the trip was booked that I learned the 80s-90s show Murder, She Wrote was filmed right where we were staying in Mendocino.

I couldn’t send this to anyone.  I couldn’t post it online. I couldn’t text it, email it, or Tweet it. It was MY moment. And while I am sharing it with you now, the “no service” has taught to give me pause. 

Pause before you think to jump on that app and share a photo of a delicious meal or a beautiful scene. Soak it in. Welcome it into your brain and your experience. Once you’ve done that…then, share away.