The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

From the author of My Brilliant Friend, comes her latest book, set once again in Naples. Giovanna is beloved by her parents, and believes herself to be worthy and beautiful, until one day after a parent-teacher meeting, she overhears her father comparing her to Vittoria, his estranged and despised sister. Because Vittoria is practically a swear word in their household, Giovanna feels completely rejected, and becomes obsessed with knowing more about her aunt. As she invites this horrid woman into their lives, things change irrevocably.

The story is partly a coming of age, as Giovanna grows from a child into a teen, and also an exploration of the two sides of Naples. Giovanna’s father is from a poorer, working class family, but she has always grown up and only known the middle class side of town. She belongs in both and neither.

Vittoria pathologically believes that nothing is her fault, and blames her brother, Giovanna’s father, for everything in her life. She was actually a pretty creepy character. I wasn’t sure where the book was going to go with her, because she reminded me of some kind of true crime documentary subject. She is determined to ruin her brothers life and relationships, and doesn’t care who she hurts in the process. She also is really strange towards Giovanna, oversharing and putting loads of toxic things on her 12 year old shoulders. The fact that I hated her as much as I did is testament to the authors writing skill.

I also think that the way that Giovanna starts to see her parents as people, instead of idealised creatures is really well written too. The time when we learn that our parents are fallible and not perfect can be a really turbulent time. This is a large focus of the book, too.

I was so curious to read this one, because I’ve heard so much about My Brilliant Friend, and a lot of the author’s books are being made into TV series and things. I didn’t love it though. I can see the writer’s talent, but I felt like a lot in this book felt like a soap opera. The title refers to the way in which adults tell their children not to lie, but then don’t tell the truth themselves. It feels like everyone in this book is telling a lie, and a big one at that. Perhaps Vittoria the most, who lies to herself. She’s di-a-bolical! She is a lot like the bad female characters in a soap.

In a way, there’s not a lot of plot here, just characters and their revelations, and maybe that’s what was a struggle for me. Nothing was really happening and the characters were not really very nice, but there was a lot of stuff. Also, I started to get pretty uncomfortable about Giovanna hanging out at 15 with guys about a decade older than her. Luckily, it doesn’t get really dark, but it feels like her sexual exploration with her female friend is a lot nicer than the men she engages in sex with, who are grotesque, in her own words. It also felt dramatic, but never really explained or explored. As a friend of mine said, Ferrante’s characters are described but they’re distant, we don’t really get to know them and how events effect them, and I agree with this. I think it makes for a hard read.

I’ve heard that a lot of what’s here is similar to My Brilliant Friend, so I think if you liked that book and the ones that followed it, then you’re not going to hate this one. And I know a lot of people really got a kick out of reading the soapy aspects of this book. So, I think really, I can see the value here, but it didn’t grab me personally. If you like Ferrante, you won’t be disappointed.

Thank you PGC Books for the ARC of this book for review. I appreciate it so much. All opinions here are my own. The Lying Life of Adults is out now.

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