Book Review: The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

The Lying Life of Adults

Translated by Ann Goldstein

About the Book:

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.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed this novel. I have only read My Brilliant Friend (which I loved) and the second one in that quartet (which I didn’t love), so I wouldn’t say I’m a super fan of Ferrante, but I enjoyed her writing from those two previous reads, and the Neapolitan atmosphere she infuses into her work is second to none. I was very keen to read this new novel as a way of deciding, outside of the quartet, whether I had it in me to become a Ferrante super fan, and I think it might be on the cards. The Lying Life of Adults is instantly recognisable as Ferrante, her writing is distinctive and that atmosphere I mentioned above is just instantly there, almost tangible in its presence. The characters are complex and highly emotional, I think this is a cultural thing, let’s call it the Neapolitan way of being, and the story, whilst not overly complicated, was entirely engrossing. A coming of age, yes, but also a fully fleshed out story of a family in crisis and the way in which the toxicity of one person can have such far-reaching consequences, in this case, causing intergenerational upheaval within four families.

There were a few things I found a bit icky, and maybe it can be attributed to a difference in culture, but the amount of older men having sex with very young teenagers was a bit disturbing. Sometimes they were men in their early twenties dating young teenage girls, but other times it was married men in their forties and fifties having sexual encounters with them so that they could get the whole business of losing their virginity over and done with. It might be the Neapolitan way, but it is also statutory rape and an abuse of power, yet no one seemed to have an issue with it. Also, I found the friendship between Giovanna and Angela confusing, there were sexual overtones from a young age yet neither of the girls claimed to be lesbians. It almost seemed like it was just a thing you did, make out with your best friend all the time until you reach an age where you can use a boy instead. I kept waiting for an exploration of this, within the context of this being a coming of age story, yet it seemed par for the course. These things, to me, were abrasive, a sort of roughness that when paired with the smooth beauty of Ferrante’s prose, seem to convey a signature style. In Vittoria, Giovanna’s aunt, we have a woman who is so extreme in her emotions and conduct, so manipulative and yet so needy. I really appreciated watching this path that Giovanna seemed to be intent on walking, following in her aunt’s footsteps with deliberate intent, yet at the same time, attempting to forge her own way. I was very much holding my breath, begging her not to just become a new version of Vittoria for the next generation to deal with.

I’m not sure if there are plans for this to become a series. It finished with sense of openness, there could definitely be more, but in equal measure, things wrapped up well. All in all, if you enjoyed My Brilliant Friend, you’ll probably enjoy this as well. I certainly did. It is aptly titled, and we see, right the way through, just how much lying goes into adulting, both to others and ourselves, and more pertinently, the way in which our offspring see this and form their own opinions about it.


Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Lying Life of Adults for review.

About the Author:

Elena Ferrante is the author of The Days of Abandonment (Europa, 2005), Troubling Love (Europa, 2006), The Lost Daughter (Europa, 2008) and the four volumes of 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), published by Europa Editions between 2012 and 2015. She is also the author of a children’s picture book illustrated by Mara Cerri, The Beach at Night, and a work of non-fiction, Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey. Incidental Inventions, her collected Guardian columns, was published in 2019.

The Lying Life of Adults
Published by Europa Editions
Released 1st September 2020

18 thoughts on “Book Review: The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

    • It’s not my kind of ick. But it doesn’t overshadow everything else, it just happens to be something my radar for wrongness is tuned for, so perhaps I notice things like that more. Maybe.
      I really wasn’t impressed with the 2nd Neapolitan novel, I found the characters and their toxicity so tiresome beyond the first, so I stopped there and haven’t read her since. So maybe with a break you wouldn’t mind this one.


  1. I’ve enjoyed some of Ferrante’s books (although not the Neapolitan series), and will probably read this one. One way or another, her themes always gravitate toward power/ sex/ gender/ life stage and expectations, so this one sounds consistent!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know that different cultures think about sex in different ways, but men in their twenties and up who are interested in girls in their early teens are just creeps. And it seemed creepy to me that Ferrante didn’t think they were creepy. And it seems like a lot of reviewers didn’t even notice the issue. I’m glad you’re brought it up. I got wrapped up in the story, because Ferrante is great, but it just didn’t sit right with me.

    Liked by 1 person

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