The Lying Life of Adults: Book summary and reviews of The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

The Lying Life of Adults

by Elena Ferrante

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante X
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2020
    336 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

A powerful new novel set in a divided Naples by Elena Ferrante, the beloved best-selling author of My Brilliant Friend.

Giovanna's pretty face has changed: it's turning into the face of an ugly, spiteful adolescent. But is she seeing things as they really are? Into which mirror must she look to find herself and save herself?

She is searching for a new face in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: the Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and the Naples of the depths, which professes to be a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves between these two cities, disoriented by the fact that, whether high or low, the city seems to offer no answer and no escape.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A girl, a city, an inhospitable society: Ferrante's formula works again!" - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Fans of Ferrante's first two Neopolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend (2012) and The Story of a New Name (2013), will especially revel in Giovanna's confessional, perceptive, gut-wrenching, and often funny narration of what she calls her 'arduous approach to the adult world.'" - Booklist (starred review)

"While this feels minor in comparison to Ferrante's previous work, Giovanna is the kind of winning character readers wouldn't mind seeing more of." - Publishers Weekly

"Ferrante shows again how she is unbeatable." - The Times (UK)

"[The Lying Life of Adults] is highly addictive." - Elle (Italy)

"Reading a novel by Elena Ferrante is like coming home, like returning to those happy childhood moments—perhaps imaginary—when we asked mom or dad to tell us the same bedtime story over and over again. From the very first sentences, The Lying Life of Adults enfolds and absorbs readers in the same way." - Vanity Fair (Italy)

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Reader Reviews

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Bill H

Frantumaglia!
Frantumaglia!

It’s at work everywhere. It sleeps, it eats., it cries. It fucks, it shits. What foolishness ever to It laughs have said that it thinks, therefore it is…

Now serious readers of Ferrante have come to understand this in her totalizing of her characters. Their bodies are Desiring Machines whose assorted aspects suddenly pop out of an otherwise serene Ratio-- much like energized quantum particles from the cosmic void. She will not permit them to achieve a rest state of uninterrupted thought. In her own first language, Neapolitan, this agonized intrusion upon the calm surface of reason is called “Frantumagila”—or literally, a malady that strikes the forehead.

“Lying Life”, then, is the two-year auto-narrative of a young teenager who’s been thereby stricken down. And not knowing what’s happening, her own solution is one of anti-social revolt and flight--imagine that!

And a large part of this is a wandering outwards and into the grasp of an extremely nasty aunt who still lives on the ‘bad’ side of town. There she encounters a working class, Neapolitan Culture replete with ‘dialect’ which—in the hands of Ferrante—remarkably becomes not only the object of Giovanna’s wanderings but also the subject itself of her narrative. Naples is the Frantumaglia itself.

In this manner, Ferrante transcends the quotidian psychobabble of teen angst; Giovanna isn’t that special but rather, only brightly curious. She comes from a yuppie subdivision and raised by loving helicopter parents whose success in life is based upon academic achievement. Moreover, they’ve created a homey environment that enables their daughter to follow.

Yet they’ve utterly failed to come to terms with Real Life issues that cannot be reduced to the resolution of an intellectual problem. Ferrante observes that this error has been established as a particular Line of Flight into success that’s been offered to achieving citizens by The Italian Republic. So to this degree, their personal failures suggest a wider, cultural failure of ignoring the non-thinking, emotional self. But again, Ferrante seems to say that this neglect is a permanent structural feature if Italy’s Intellectual Culture

And as we know, at 14, small incidents play mind-games in small minds; this particular one involves a trivial sarcasm about her resemblance to that ugly aunt whom she’s never met. So guess what she does? Chaos and tempest ensues and for 300 pages our semi-lost heroine is biffed, buffed and bounces between the Two Worlds of Vomero and Pascone.
Lots of the wonderful reading involves getting to know the neighbors, friends and families in these two radically-contrasting quarters.

It should also be noted that the changes that our heroine encounter are all rather mundane.

Growing up to 16 involves gaining perspective in which parents divorce and re-marry, and friends come and go. Finally, of course becoming an adult means acknowledging the possibility of lying. Yet to lie itself carries two meanings: whereas for the Pascone it’s a survival strategy, in the Vomero it’s the problematic of the Second Self that coexists with honesty, truth, and knowledge.

So the changes that our heroine encounter are all rather mundane. And, of course becoming an adult means acknowledging the possibility of lying. But small cracks open large doors…and Selves are doors that open to new possibilities and trajectories.

But Subjects are not—as egoist amertikan sykology would have it-- steady states to be sought after and obtained. So put in the Proustian sense, ‘Cote chez parents de Vomero’ will still offer our heroine far more opportunities of flight than ‘Cote chez tante de Pascone’. Moreover, to this end, the novel is an expose of her striving outwards, and seeking a doable path; her real Self-ness or Nature, is her inner striving, and her willingness to permit herself to become a door.

Now although several solutions are offered within the narration, none are satisfactory. First, of course, we encounter her parents who’ve hermetically sealed her on the loveliest hill in Naples. To go anywhere, you’ll need to take the funicular down (it’s lot’s of fun, btw, and when in Naples, Vomero is where you want to stay!). So although auntie proves to be as horrible as her parents suggested, the essence of the matter is Giovanna’s curiosity as to how horrible she really is.

Therefore, the relationship with auntie is the second door. Then beyond her completely amusing description, we encounter the family of her dead lover, whose characters reek with Frantumaglia, as well. Yet it’s crucial to understand that all of them want to leave because the Pascone is a hell hole of failure—as readers of The Tetrology can well attest.

Lastly, we encounter Roberto and the Church, with whom Giovanna is completely taken in. But because she’s been raised as an atheist, his influence will be felt in parts. Yet it’s under his wing that she discovers her own natural gift for philosophy and learning. In short, she’s indeed becoming another Brilliant Friend.

Central to Robert’s teachings is his emphasis on ‘compunction’ as The Church’s way to avoid Frantumaglia. Believer or not –and I’m not-- meaningful discourse on the nature of Evil represents The Church’s legacy to all of us. But Roberto as so admired by our teenie becomes a miserable failure—as all adults must invariably appear to a child. Again, the ‘lying life’ of being an adult involves his having illicit sex; regardless of his discourse on compunction, not even Roberto is completely immune to The Frantumaglia.

So what of a solution? Well first, of course, we’re forewarned on page one that because Giovanna admits to being a work in progress, there will be no resolution. Rather, what the author has offered up is a Body Without Organs. Gionanna’s last flight is into the oblivion of an unknown Venice, for which she’s become—along with her new bestie-- voluntarily disorganized.

Yet she assures the reader that they will become adults like the World has never seen before. Of course, that’s hardly believable. She’ll be spending the summer in Venice with a greasy-sleazy from the slums and a 14 year old with a worse attitude than even her own of two years ago. We wish her luck! And we can also hope that a Part Two is in the making. In particular, will a coherent Line of Flight emerge?

Finally, it should be noted that Italy’s actually a safe place for the practice of pre-adult Nomadology. After all, this is Europe and not amerika or Mexico, where wayward children are routinely murdered. Above all, she’ll learn how to deal with the Frantumaglia because, as adult readers, we understand that she will neither soon become an adult nor completely ‘new’ even as a growing child. So her arrogant insistence as the book’s last sentence indicates that she’s yet to understand the problem.

So what of Ferrante’s own solution? First, of course, as a novelist to describe the effects. Unlike herself, her characters are who they are because they’re yet to discover the Ultimate Compunction. In her wallet she carries a photo of Caravaggio’s “Acts of Corporal Mercy”. In this sense, indeed, she’s far more than the echo of Morante from whom she took her nom de plume. Rather, the New Manzoni. To overcome The Frantumaglia is not a matter of compunction. Rather, GoodWorks. And to Rejoice.

Jane

Could this be a fake Ferrante?
This book seemed different than other Ferrante books. The characters seemed less explored. Motivations were excluded. Since we don’t know who actually writes Ferrante’s books, was this a new author using the name?
The ending was a questionable surprise. Interested to know what others think.

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Author Information

Elena Ferrante Author Biography

Elena Ferrante is the author of The Days of Abandonment (Europa, 2005), which was made into a film directed by Roberto Faenza, Troubling Love (Europa, 2006), adapted by Mario Martone, and The Lost Daughter (Europa, 2008), soon to be a film directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She is also the author of Frantumaglia: A Writer's Journey (Europa, 2016) in which she recounts her experience as a novelist, and a children's picture book illustrated by Mara Cerri, The Beach at Night (Europa, 2016). The four volumes known as the "Neapolitan quartet" (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child) were published in America by Europa between 2012 and 2015. The first season of the HBO series My Brilliant Friend, directed by Saverio Costanzo,...

... Full Biography
Link to Elena Ferrante's Website

Name Pronunciation
Elena Ferrante: EH-leh-nuh feh-RAHN-tay. Rolled "R" in "Ferrante."

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