The Lying Life of Adults: inside the dark and dangerous world of Elena Ferrante

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When the book hit the shelves in Italy earlier this year, devoted fans held Harry Potter-style vigils as they waited to get their hands on a copy. And long before it was even released in English, Netflix announced that they were adapting it into a mini-series.This is the kind of excitement that a new novel by Elena Ferrante inspires.

It's been five years since the publication of the final book in her bestselling Neapolitan quartet and fans have been breathlessly waiting to see what the enigmatic Italian author does next.And now at last her new novel, The Lying Life of Adults, has been released in SA. We take a look at the book that everybody is talking about.

In a nutshell: what it's about

Giovanna has always felt loved by her parents, who are both successful teachers. But at age 12 as she enters adolescence, she overhears her father complaining to her mother that his daughter has grown “ugly”. But not only that, he observes that she reminds him of his estranged sister, Vittoria, a woman in whom “ugliness and spite were combined to perfection” and who he loathes for her vulgarity. But who exactly is Vittoria? Much to her father's horror, Giovanna makes up her mind to find out.

Unlike the upwardly mobile trajectory of the Neapolitan quartet, this novel follows a girl's descent from her affluent home in Naples to a working class part of the city as she searches out the truth about her family in her quest to establish her own identity.

Noteworthy things

  • It plays out mostly in the 1990s, so it's set in a very different time period to the Neapolitan quartet, which began in the 50s. Yet critics have noted that although it's more modern, it doesn't feel contemporary.
  • Much to fans' delight, the ending seems to hint that there may be a sequel in the works.It was translated by Ann Goldstein, an American book editor who translated the Neapolitan series into English.

What the critics say

"Ferrante is a superb analyst of the ways in which families, despite their best intentions, distort children’s lives or propel them in unwished-for directions." -Lisa Appignanesi, The Guardian

"Ferrante raises a periscope into the ferocious inner workings of adolescent minds and spirits as they discover that the human body. If there is a moral for the type of educated readers represented perhaps by Giovanna’s parents, it is this: adults cannot sculpt how their children turn out, no matter how diligently they work at it. They can just watch them, worry about them - and be careful how they talk about their sisters around them." - Belinda Luscombe, Time magazine  

 "The Lying Life of Adults shares with Ferrante’s great Neapolitan novels the sly knack of undercutting whatever straightforward thing it seems to be saying on its surface." -  Laura Miller, slate.com

Elena Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults
The Lying Lives of Adults By Elena Ferrante Allen & Unwin

Opening lines

"Two years before leaving home my father said to my mother that I was very ugly. The sentence was uttered under his breath, in the apartment that my parents, newly married,had bought at the top of Via San Giacomo dei Capri, in Rione Alto. Everything — the spaces of Naples, the blue light of a frigid February, those words — remained fixed. But I slipped away, and am still slipping away, within these lines that are intended to give me a story, while in fact I am nothing, nothing of my own, nothing that has really begun or really been brought to completion: only a tangled knot, and nobody, not even the one who at this moment is writing, knows if it contains the right thread for a story or is merely a snarled confusion of suffering, without redemption."

Who is Elena Ferrante?

Despite years of speculation nobody can say for sure. Since the publication of her first novel in 1992, the publicity-shy author has kept her identity a secret. In 2016 investigative journalist, Claudio Gatti, conducted a controversial "unmasking", claiming that her books were the work of Rome-based translator Anita Raja. A year late, following an exhaustive study of the books' prose, academics from University of Padua concluded that the novels were actually written by Raja's husband, Domenico Starnone. Both have denied writing the works, which have sold over 15 million copies in 42 countries.


The TV series

Although details of the cast and broadcast date of The Lying Life of Adults have yet to be announced, Netflix released this short trailer to whet fans' appetites.

SOURCES: GUARDIAN.COM, TIME.COM, NYTIMES.COM, EW.COM, SLATE.COM

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