Books & Literature

Book Review: The Lying Life of Adults, by Elena Ferrante

CONTEMPORARY FICTION: Giovanna’s pretty face is turning into that of an ugly, spiteful adolescent. But is she seeing things as they really are?

A masterpiece.

Elena Ferrante is one of the foremost contemporary Western novelists. She is perhaps best known for her Neapolitan Quartet/My Brilliant Friend, which has recently been adapted to the screen.

The Lying Life of Adults is her latest novel. Once again set in Naples, here are many of Ferrante’s themes including class, family, and the subjectivity of perception.

Adolescent Giovanna lives in a middle-class area of Naples with her parents, both of whom are intellectuals and teachers. She adores her parents and is secure in their adoration of her. She does well at school and is happy and self-confident. Lurking in the background of this blissful domestic idyll is the shadowy figure of Vittoria, her father’s estranged sister. One day Giovanna overhears her parents talking. She interprets something her father says as being shattering, and this leads her to seek out the Aunt she has never met. As Giovanna dives into the working-class of Naples, her world starts to disintegrate.

Told in first-person, The Lying Life of Adults is an extraordinary exploration of adolescence. But this is no cute coming-of-age romp. Here is a writer unafraid. She strips life down to the bone.

Ferrante has an ability to get into the psyche of her characters that is unmatched by many other contemporary writers. We follow all the events of the story through Giovanna’s young, inexperienced gaze. No character is fully understood, because the journey she takes us on is not one of resolution. We are here to join Giovanna and see everything through her eyes.

Originally written in Italian, Ferrante has once again worked with her long-time collaborator Ann Goldstein. Goldstein is an award-winning translator who gives us a highly readable English version whilst maintaining the cadence and rhythm of Italian.

This is the novel at its best: a deep and beautiful exploration of the twists and turns of communication and perception. And an unsentimental portrait of the psychological horrors of adolescence.

One of this year’s best.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: September 2020
RRP: $32.99

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