As a rule, all coming-of-age stories include the protagonist’s realisation that the world of adults is founded on lies of many shapes and sizes. Pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante’s latest novel The Lying Life of Adults takes us into the mind of the young Giovanna Trada as she discovers such deceptions for the first time.
After overhearing her father say that Giovanna is “getting the face of Vittoria”- the estranged aunt whose name “was like the name of a monstrous being who taints and infects anyone who touches her” – Giovanna is plunged into a misery that she decides can only be ended by meeting her aunt. And in doing so, she is told by this ill-mannered, mercurial relative: “look at them carefully, your parents, otherwise you’re lost”.
Ferrante expertly takes us through the next few years of Giovanna’s adolescence as the young girl’s gaze intensifies on her parents, and their marriage (and the supposedly refined world it existed within) disintegrates. This story is a polyphony of deceit, and it sizzles with the lies the characters tell themselves as well as others. Lies for self-preservation, self-elevation, revenge, absolution, status, desire…
And though Giovanna’s disillusionment with those around her grows, she is not immune. She too finds herself participating in this all too human act, the creation of the “lies, lies, adults forbid them and yet they tell so many”. In her friendships, family relationships, encounters with a number of questionable boys, and in her infatuation with her friend’s fiancé Roberto… Giovannna lies again and again, as we all do, in her construction and reconstruction of her self.
Tensions within domestic lives uprooted by infidelity, the swirling shifts in moods and alliances, class differences… these form the stupefying environment in which Giovanna’s teenage experience unfolds. And for readers who finish the book wanting more, Netflix will be developing a series around the emotional riptides of The Lying Life of Adults for us to devour in the near future.Support Villainesse