Book review: Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults
In her bestselling series known as the Neapolitan Novels, the pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante tells the story of two female friends as they grow up against the gritty backdrop of postwar Naples.
Ferrante covers similar ground in her highly anticipated new book, The Lying Life of Adults, which was released in Italy late last year and is newly available in English translation.
A coming-of-age tale set once again in Naples, the novel centres on 12-year-old Giovanna, who has enjoyed a comfortable childhood in an affluent neighbourhood with her bookish parents.
She adores her mother and father, revering their apparently devoted marriage as a model love story. And she unquestioningly accepts their view of the world, including their hatred of her father’s apparently vulgar and manipulative estranged sister, Vittoria.
It’s a real blow, then, when Giovanna overhears her father saying she is coming to resemble her aunt. Interpreting the casual comment as a rejection of both her appearance and character, she resolves to meet Vittoria to judge the truth of the comparison for herself. This sets off a chain of events culminating in the revelation of an affair within the family — accompanied, for Giovanna, by a growing awareness of the varied deceptions adults inflict on themselves and others. “Lies, lies, adults forbid them and yet they tell so many,” she observes.
Giovanna thus begins to experiment with her own acts of duplicity and rebellion, as she struggles to relate not only to the people around her but also her changing body and a culture in which, it increasingly seems to her, girls and women are seen to exist primarily in relation to the men in their lives. Ferrante’s narrative adeptly captures an appropriately moody portrait of the turbulence of adolescence, with its hopeful yet open-ended conclusion seeming rich with potential — and hinting, perhaps, at the possibility of a sequel.
THE LYING LIFE OF ADULTS
Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions, $32.99)
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