My Beautiful Friend is a story about Elena Greco and her friendship with Lila, a somewhat enigmatic, contrarian, and perplexing soul. The narrative spans their childhood from the tender ages where we don’t really know what we are doing up until the brink of adulthood. The novel is very much a bildungsroman for the pair, one that pays close examination of ebbs and flows of their character and relationship.
Their friendship is difficult to define in conventional terms. They are best friends, but they are also rivals. The best way I can think of characterising their friendship is intense. Since we the book is written from the perspective of Elena, it is difficult to gauge their dynamic objectively. In a lot of the book, there are overtures which suggest Elena is dependent (in an unhealthy way) on Lila, yet there are hints here and there that Lila may have similar feelings. What is clear is they do care for and about each other.
“At that moment I knew what the plebs were, much more clearly than when, years earlier, she had asked me. The plebs were us. The plebs were that fight for food and wine, that quarrel over who should be served first and better, that dirty floor on which the waiters clattered back and forth, those increasingly vulgar toasts. The plebs were my mother, who had drunk wine and now was leaning against my father’s shoulder, while he, serious, laughed, his mouth gaping, at the sexual allusions of the metal dealer. They were all laughing, even Lila, with the expression of one who has a role and will play it to the utmost.”
Through all the trials and tribulations the pair face together, and alone, there remained a sense of inevitability that they would end up back at each other’s side. Their paths strayed early in the book. Elena going into further education with the promise of aristocracy that Madame Oliveiro held for her on the horizon; Lila trapped into the life that she had always known (but one she hoped to escape) working in the neighbourhood, supporting her family. They were each other’s confidantes, even if it looked like this wavered at points no matter the crisis at the time: the Solaras, boys, school, marriage. To say it is intimate would be an understatement. It felt like they both felt a little of the grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome and this tension never let up, quick to one-up each other over being happy for one another.
“Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this, this is Mamma, this is Papa, this is the day, this the night.”
Recommended. A good old character-driven narrative – one I could let myself fall deeply into.