The continuation of the Italian series ‘My Brilliant Friend’ into a third season just reinforced my suspicion that perhaps this is the best television adaptation I have seen of a literary work. Based on the series of bestselling novels by Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym for the mysterious real author) about two girls growing up in mid-century Naples, which became a literary phenomenon, this season takes as its premise the third book, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. Having read the book recently, I was in a good position to judge the tone and effectiveness viz a viz the book, and I have to say it almost surpasses it. The little girls of the first season are properly grown-up young women now and the emotional complications of adulthood are fraught with danger and heartaches.

As ever, the story is mostly told from the point of view of Elena Greco, the university graduate author woman born to humble origins in a rough neighborhood of Naples. Her education and writing have, much to the pride of her father and grudgingly ambivalent mother, taken her to Florence where she has settled in with her newly married Professor husband, Pietro. But, as was obvious in the something of a cliffhanger denouement of the second season, Nino, her lifelong crush and desire, is back in her life, springing to the defense of her book when certain critics trash it as prurient fiction. The fact that she is married to a professor from the luminary Airota family is something to be proud of, as everyone seems to remind her. And Pietro is obviously a decent man trying to please his wife but who fails to excite her senses after a point. He is also a confused soul, uncertain on how to follow in his family’s illustrious footsteps. As the pressures and drudgery of domesticity and child rearing take hold of her, she finds it harder to go back to being the writer and person she was and soon the heart wanders.

Lila, meanwhile, continues to live with Enzo in a union which while mutually affectionate is still undefinable. While she goes on with her punishing job in the Soccavo meat factory, Enzo works and studies about computers and they both bring up Lila’s son. She must deal with some grim working conditions and leering attentions of co-workers and her boss, the erstwhile angelic seeming friend of her one-time paramour, Nino. To make matters even more complicated, the political scene in the country is in upheaval, with fascists, communists and other radicals all vying for attention and their idea of what the ideal society should look like. Through her friend Pasquale and his friend, Nadia, Lila unwittingly becomes the face of the protest in the factory, something she doesn’t really want any part of. Violence becomes a part of the daily fabric of their lives, while in the neighborhood she contemplates returning to her parents and brother no longer want anything to do with her, while her old nemesis Michele Solara is still utterly besotted with her and wants to make her an offer she will find hard to refuse. But Enzo and her pursuits to a higher learning will soon have a better life and working conditions in store for them. But will the vicious cycle of life in their neighborhood ever let them go?

Although Lila is an effervescent constant presence in the story and in Elena’s life, if sporadically punctuated by periods of silence, this is still mostly a story of Elena’s coming of age. While till now she has appeared to herself and to most of the outside world as the quintessential good girl, unable to speak out on her most ardent desires and fears, here she transforms into a person capable of inflicting hurt and damage to others, especially her husband, while being confused about her eventual destiny. In other words, she becomes human, with all the rights that provides to sometimes make mistakes or be a mean person. And her feeling of helplessness is not aided by the constant references she seems to find to Lila in every other corner and person she gets close to. It is as if it was Lila, not herself, who gave definition to her idea and being of herself. So, while I found her character here the least likeable of the three seasons so far, I would say it gave her more depth and feeling as a person. Though I still can’t figure out the obsession multiple women over the course of the series have for Nino Sarratore, a charming and reasonably intelligent man perhaps, but mostly on a superficial level. In fact, the entitlement with which he and Elena, as well as some of her friends, behave with Pietro in his own home only made me dislike them all the more. And yet, Elena’s fascination is understandable; the heart wants what it wants, especially if the object of affection is a childhood fantasy.

Like I said already, this is a rare adaptation where the casting, locations and the whole feel of the show gives such a feeling of authenticity to the source, that at times I was wondering if something I remembered seeing was in fact what I had read in the book and not on the screen. The two young women playing the central characters have grown along with the show into some intensely captivating actors and I can’t wait to read the culminating part of the story soon. It is a remarkable achievement.