Do you remember the hot, searing flame of childhood friendships? The sense of belonging, of fierce loyalty, of intense, emotional engagement? Do you remember the petty and painful feuds, the corrosive jealousies? And the fear of loss, or perhaps even the pain of it? Maybe you remember long days in the sun, messing about by the river or the scrapes you got into, the lies you told, the games you won?
They're almost certainly inside you somewhere and, however old you are, probably close enough to rise to the surface if you stir them up.
Mine came willingly and easily, stirred up by this quite wonderful gift of a novel from Italy written by an author that nobody seems to know very much about but who clearly knows a great deal about people.
My Beautiful Friend is the first book in the so-called Neapolitan trilogy from the mysterious Elena Ferrante, translated into English by Ann Goldstein. At its heart is the story of the fluid, passionate, dangerous, transcendant and traumatic friendship of narrator Elena and her neighbour Lila.
Their drama, which in this first novel takes them from being young girls to teenage women, is played out largely in the small, claustrophobic and intense environment of the poor Naples neighbourhood they live in and, at least in the early years, rarely leave. It takes place against a backdrop of domestic violence, dangerous local rivalries and political dispute in a 1950s Italy still finding its place in the world after the shock of war.
The portrayal of this small corner of Italy is cinematic in its vibrancy and vividness. It's all here, the pictures, sounds and even the smells of street life. I can't recall reading a novel in which I found it so easy to immerse myself in the scene, sitting at the side (probably eating an ice cream) and observing this chaotic movie. And in this movie, the adult characters are larger than life - as adults always are to children - and the children themselves intimately and pain-stakingly depicted in both their individuality as well as in their hive.
And in the middle, chronicling their lives is Elena, or Lenu, a studious, somewhat reserved child brought into the world by a combination of her hard-won education and her friendship with the extraordinary Lila, who is a bold and vivacious presence, turning heads with her both her beauty and her forthright, unapologetic approach to life.
Their journey - sometimes together, sometimes painfully separate - through childhood to adolescence and adulthood is among the most memorable and intense experiences of my reading life. Ferrante writes with soul, with fire and with an honesty that is at turns wondrous and deeply uncomfortable.
I cannot praise it highly enough and as I turn my attention to the next book in the series, I urge you to get hold of a copy of this one and take a day or two off to read it. You won't regret it.
Finally, once again, a word for the brilliant Debbie James at The Bookshop Kibworth, who recommended this to me during my most recent visit. I never leave her shop without a book, and that's because she always has something she's knows is right for me. That, too, is a gift.