What a relief it is when an author who has written a masterpiece returns to prove the gift intact ... translated once again by the nimble and attentive Goldstein ... Adolescence remains rich territory for Ferrante. Here as in her past work, she captures the interior states of young people with an unflinching psychological honesty that is striking in its vividness and depth. We share in Giovanna’s embarrassments, the tortured logic of her self-soothing, her temptations and decisions that accrete into something like experience...Ferrante’s genius is to stay with the discomfort. With the same propulsive, episodic style she perfected in the Neapolitan quartet, she traces how it is that the consciousness of a girl at 12 becomes that of a young woman at 16 ... The change in period makes all the difference. Setting Giovanna’s coming-of-age in the early 1990s, Ferrante slyly asks how decades of feminism and reaction have changed the world since the Neapolitan novels’ Lila and Lenù were teenagers ... There is also more humor to be found, at least in Giovanna’s perfect Gen X deadpan ... [a] perhaps too-abrupt end.
... exquisitely moody ... Life of Adults itself...invites us to evaluate lying not only as a moral problem, but also as an aesthetic challenge—to ask whether a lie can ever be elevated into an art form ... It is a novel of disillusionment, as the literary critic Georg Lukács once described the category: a novel that strips away its young protagonist’s major social relationships to elevate her interiority ... this marvelously disconcerting novel of disillusionment is a product of the grace extended to the liar by the writer. Only the writer’s truthful lies can mirror the liar’s petty ones with the clear sight needed to affirm the intensity of her past. Only the writer knows how to conjure desire; sympathize with misjudgment; rebuke carelessness; disappoint mercifully. Always, Ferrante’s fiction reminds us that sometimes you need someone else to help gather the scattered fragments of your existence.
Ferrante isn’t exactly charting new territory here, and yet, as an undisputed master in rendering the familiar strange, her prose packs a punch just when we are about to settle into a sense of familiarity. With the publication of The Lying Life of Adults, we see an author at her peak, deftly synthetizing the density of her first three novels with the sprawling quality of the Neapolitan Novels, all while managing to uncover complex and challenging human truths ... The story is told in the first person, as are all of Ferrante’s novels. It’s hard to imagine otherwise at this point; prose, for her, serves as a conduit for the most rigorous kind of self-examination, often dragging us into psychic places we’d rather not inhabit ... Ferrante aims to shock, and she aims to please. But she also aims to critique ... I’d like to think that these pages serve as a warning. A warning that the fight for feminist autonomy waged in the seventies...and innumerable other struggles for social betterment that have consumed whole generations, are not work of the past. That women, more than ever, are subject to the ascriptions of men around them. All that is left to us, Ferrante seems to be saying, is revolt.
Ferrante has a gift, perhaps even a genius, for making great literature out of melodrama. But the overwrought language of her new book doesn’t illuminate the anguish that it seeks to plumb ... Had this been a young writer’s coming-of-age story, one could praise its abundant flashes of brilliance and forgive its excesses. Coming from a master, its puerility is a mystery ... lucidity is missing from The Lying Life ... The Lying Life has passages of electric dialogue and acute perception. But its crude hinting and telegraphing suggest an author who distrusts her reader’s discernment, and they made me wonder if Ferrante hadn’t drafted the story as a much younger writer, still honing her craft ... The Lying Life of Adults affords no sense of Italy in the nineteen-nineties ... For all the signage in The Lying Life of Adults, it is hard to say what Ferrante’s intentions were.
If there is a sense of having been here before, it’s because there are themes common to Ferrante’s other work: a fascination with beauty, or the lack of it; class, and the ability to transcend poverty through study; the contrast and links between vulgarity and refinement ... But, unlike the case in much of Ferrante’s previous fiction, there isn’t a character who acts as a direct foil to the protagonist ... Instead, various female figures appear and disappear without ever matching the rich character development granted to Giovanna, who goes from insecurity and painful self-analysis to an acceptance of sorts. At the start, it is Vittoria who imbues the story with a sense of momentum, her meetings with Giovanna described in vivid, electrifying detail. But as her figure is sidelined halfway through the book, the pace increases, flitting from scene to scene in quick succession. As with her previous work, Ferrante is at her best when she is homing in on the minutiae of everyday encounters, rather than attempting a sprawling overview covering many years and disparate issues.
Elena Ferrante is so good on the bodily feelings of female adolescence: the sweaty, clotted skin, the sudden bulges as breasts form, the awkwardly exciting transformations. She is good, also, on the way that childhood friendships change, becoming infused with desire and longing ... For Ferrante’s loyal readers there’s a pleasure in connecting this bogeyman to the luridly frightening Don Achille in My Brilliant Friend, in connecting Vittoria’s dangerous intelligence with Lila’s, and comparing the symbolic bracelet to the silver bracelet that Lenù breaks there. What’s remarkable is that the book manages to be all the more new and surprising for being layered with familiar Ferrante places and themes. It combines the slow-motion intensity of The Lost Daughter with the addictive momentum of the quartet, rendered in perfectly weighted prose by Ann Goldstein. As with Hardy’s Wessex or DH Lawrence’s Eastwood, the setting, by becoming so familiar, becomes a shared space between reader and writer. It feels as though Ferrante is playing with her fame, inviting us back into the poorer neighbourhoods of Naples that at the start of the book are more familiar to us than they are to Giovanna.
The Lying Life of Adults takes a magnifying glass to the difficult patch of terrain that girls have to negotiate when they move, as the old sex-education movies like to put it, from girl to woman. Ferrante sugarcoats little of this rite of passage. Even such romance-infused interludes as first love and sexual discovery are dark experiences. Giovanna undergoes a period of self-loathing so deep that she experiences 'a very violent need for degradation' ... Although set in the early 1990s, the novel does not feel contemporary. The young characters’ lack of political awareness and digital devices evokes nostalgia for an extinct type of less mediated childhood. But it has a timeless quality—the turmoil, judgment and bewildering choices that girls face as their bodies morph and their minds begin to explore independent thought are eternal. It’s a coming-of-age novel, yes, but not for those who are coming of age.
... suspenseful and propulsive; in style and theme, a sibling to [Ferrante's] previous books. But it’s also a more vulnerable performance, less tightly woven and deliberately plotted, even turning uncharacteristically jagged at points as it explores some of the writer’s touchiest preoccupations ... The pleasure for the reader is often in spotting those moments of disjuncture that Ferrante flags for us, where the narrative is partial or incomplete. But here is where some wobbliness presents itself in the new novel. The mournful opening paragraph — with its caveat that this tale might only be 'a snarled confusion of suffering, without redemption' — doesn’t square with the story in our hands, of the evolution of a young woman, so brash and sensibly secretive, allergic to banality, prone to fabrication but honest with herself about her desires. Ferrante leaves many threads dangling; we’re left to wonder at the initial forecast and the novel’s enigmatic, oddly heroic conclusion: What is this progress that seems to contain the seeds of regression? When is a revolt indistinguishable from a retreat?
Yes, this book lives up to its author’s reputation, and then some. In focusing on Giovanna and her journey, The Lying Life of Adults achieves an energy and warmth sometimes missing in the narratives about Lila and Lenù in the Quartet. And the answer to Ferrante first-time readers: Yes, this picaresque of adolescence set in a Naples of indeterminate chronology deserves a spot on your fall reading list. Giovanna’s fate, containing elements both expected and unexpected, makes her one of this year’s most memorable heroines.
Elena Ferrante’s long-awaited new novel kicks off with the line: 'Two years before moving out, my father told my mother I was really ugly.' And it does not let up, showing time and again how men can be feckless, vain, deceiving shits ... Ferrante shows again how she is unbeatable at pulling you inside the mind of a teenage girl, making you see how everything that looks irrational from the outside — the moods, the silences, the jealousy, fears, tears and resentments — are utterly logical and reasonable ... The book does sag in the middle, when Vittoria temporarily vanishes — the years pass, and you start to miss the spark between Lila and Elena and the historical canvas of the Naples quartet of novels ... However, the pace picks up in the final third, thanks to the rising, overlapping tensions in the lives of the women who start to orbit around Giovanna ... Giovanna’s growing resilience and her discovery of one man she can put on a pedestal carries the book as it picks up speed with a flurry of denouements right to the last page. This book gives the world a new Naples heroine and a hint that another quartet of novels might be in the works, as well as showing that five years on Elena Ferrante can still deliver.
... a powerful coming-of-age story like no other ... Ferrante’s ability to draw in her reader remains unparalleled, and the emotional story is well served by Ann Goldstein’s smooth and engaging translation. The novel simmers with overt rage toward parental deception, teachers’ expectations and society’s impossible ideals of beauty and behavior. For readers who are familiar with Ferrante’s work, there will be much that is recognizable ... But The Lying Life of Adults is very much its own story. Giovanna’s self-reliance and her efforts to become the kind of adult she has yet to meet will resonate with thoughtful readers.
Giovanna’s self-seriousness, combined with her frenetic religious and romantic impulses, leads to some abrupt plotting and messy pacing at the three-quarter mark; the 'I,' as the sole narrative rudder, loses control in choppy waters. The prose, by contrast, translated from the Italian by the award-winning Ann Goldstein, remains consistently rhythmic and composed. Ferrante’s similes run their typical range from plainspoken precision to almost clumsy ... More so than any of Ferrante’s previous books, Lying Life exists as a novel of ideas. The antinomies of body/mind, sex/chastity, material/ideal hint at how the materiality of life—the underlying conditions of one’s class, the body itself—can constitute a kind of fate, the force we’re left with when the future is not our own. Economic determinism, she suggests, leaves us stratified, bitter, stuck. (Dubious pastry metaphors come to mind.) Still, the book’s sense of narrative inevitability, so characteristic of Ferrante, exerts a strong gravitational pull. Fate propels the fairy tale, after all.
Ferrante is preternaturally attuned to the nitty-gritty of girlhood, territory she explored in her Neapolitan novels. What also remains true here: The Lying Life of Adults affirms that Ferrante is an oracle among authors, writing literary epics as illuminating as origin myths, explaining us to ourselves.
The Lying Life of Adults is the most intense writing about the experiences and interior life of a girl on the cusp of adulthood that I have ever read. It is brilliant, but also demands a lot from the reader: namely that we drop everything and immerse ourselves in the dark and brutally self-loathing first-person narrative of Giovanna ... Vittoria is probably the most transgressive, magnificently unsuitable aunt in the fictional canon ... Throughout, Ferrante is creating ideas for the reader to consider — sparks that kickstart our own faulty memories or recall attempts at self-determination or feelings about faith and family ... We ought to end this book reeling but instead it seems hopeful, with Giovanna’s life a work in progress. And it helps that her story is mediated via Ferrante’s formal, austere prose, which acts like a containment field for the extremes of emotion and the violence — latent and realised — that underpin much of the Neapolitan life that she and her English translator Ann Goldstein conjure here.
... bizarrely, rather run-of-the-mill, like her take on an after-school special ... You need to understand a bit about Naples for The Lying Life of Adults to really make sense ... The quest for total honesty is one only a teenager could pursue with a straight face ... There’s no facet of teenage rebellion that Ferrante leaves unnarrated...At some middle point, the story picks up steam...And here Ferrante’s rigorous, undaunted prose comes to the fore, culminating in a Sebaldian two-page-long rant of a sentence that comes falling out of Giovanna’s father’s mouth ... The Lying Life of Adults can’t sit still, and Giovanna wriggles through so many abrupt reversals that while Ferrante captures the flightiness of adolescence, her narrative sometimes sputters and stumbles ... I’m delighted by the idea of a bildungsroman that doesn’t automatically launch its protagonist into an adult life of wisdom and serenity. What makes Giovanna so special is the way she deems grownups no smarter or more emotionally adaptable than the most hormonally motivated teens. But at the end of The Lying Life of Adults, there’s little to indicate whether even Giovanna has taken notice of who she herself is ... Ferrante is still Ferrante — her characters have wide-spanned souls and so does Naples, exuding the smells of the sea and gasoline and baking crust. But without a counterbalance, her own brilliant friend, poor Giovanna drifts. I wanted to see her tethered to something, anything, even if it was her own unsteadiness. Perhaps Ferrante is saving that for a sequel.
There is none of the lushness, the sense of abandon, that saturated the Neapolitan quartet. Yet in The Lying Life of Adults, Ms. Ferrante once again, with undiminished skill and audacity, creates an emotional force field that has at its heart a young girl on the brink of womanhood ... in the world that Ms. Ferrante creates nothing is ever trivial, let alone meaningless. The fleeting expression on a face, the texture of a doll’s dress, the glint of a gold bracelet, such things make up the magpie nest we call memory. And in family stories—the stories Ms. Ferrante tells as few other writers can—cherished items acquire totemic power ... no character in The Lying Life of Adults, however incidental, is superfluous, just as no detail—of the outer or inner landscape—is cursory, but an essential fragment of the tight mosaic whose pattern holds us spellbound ... Only Ms. Ferrante knows what lies ahead for her new generation of formidable heroines. If we are lucky she may even let us know.
The shoals of brutality that live beneath the surface of outwardly civilized people are familiar territory for fans of Ferrante ... If the Neapolitan novels represented the span of late 20th century womanhood, The Lying Life of Adults takes a magnifying glass to the difficult patch of terrain that girls have to negotiate when they move, as the old sex-education movies like to put it, from girl to woman. Ferrante sugarcoats little of this rite of passage. Even such romance-infused interludes as first love and sexual discovery are dark experiences ... It’s a coming-of-age novel, yes, but not for those who are coming of age. Ferrante raises a periscope into the ferocious inner workings of adolescent minds and spirits ... 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.
The Lying Life of Adults suggests that as people ascend in society, they may gain outward mastery over their emotions, but in doing so they must lie and deny that they have the same strong urges and impulses as less-educated people ... Giovanna’s coming-of-age story is gripping, but what makes this novel indelible is Ferrante’s voice. As in her other novels, she convinces the reader to feel she’s the only person to ever reveal the complete truth. The Lying Life of Adults reads like an intimate confession or urgent confidence, and it will leave the reader as shaken and invigorated as it does its young protagonist.
Does it veer toward melodrama? At times. But credit where it’s due: Ferrante lives up to her own billing. Who else’s prose could bear comparison with a volcano? ... Ferrante’s female narrators[']...personalities are unstable, even fluid, and defy settled definitions, not least of all their own. Not all of Ferrante’s characters are so enticingly mysterious. As a rule, Ferrante’s lower-class men are oversexed, unfaithful, physically abusive, emotionally needy, and incompetent lovers to boot ... the hot-blooded Italian cafone is a bit of a stock figure. The predictability of Ferrante’s men saps some of the heat from her stories, and a righteous cliché is still a cliché ... The Lying Life of Adults is recognizably a portrait of the artist as a young woman. She has the storyteller’s power: she can tell lies that enchant and delight, rather than harm.
... marvelous ... Ferrante is at heart a writer of objects. In Lying Life, sharply translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein, a single piece of jewelry sets the runaway train of causality in motion. The hot-potato bracelet of hazy provenance will, by the end of the novel, have appeared on six different Neapolitan wrists across three generations of three intertwined families, provoking multiple plot devices of escalating absurdity. It’s almost as if Ferrante wanted to test herself, to see how far she could push her skill with signifiers. What should be ludicrous is instead delicious, as if Tolkien’s One Ring was forged to socially aggrieve ... The book’s tight focus on plot and character gives it an interesting fairytale aspect, but I found myself missing the contextual backdrop of The Neapolitan Novels. It takes a bit of work to find out we’re in the 1990s, and, with an almost total lack of time stamps, too much more work to remember. This is also true of Naples itself, which feels strangely like anywhere ... The novel works as a stand-alone—the denouement resolves the question of the bracelet nicely—but as the opening salvo of a larger work, it would be still more effective. I wanted to go to the shelf, find the next volume in this series, and continue. Let’s hope that’s what Ferrante has in mind.
For Gianni, as for Lenù in My Brilliant Friend, comes a recognition, an epiphany almost, that the ugly, distorted natures of her parents’ generation may impose themselves ... The teenage years are also...under the microscope, less trammelled by any specific time; the story, despite its many points of contact with My Brilliant Friend, feels unique. The characters are memorable: parents, friends, above all the fiercely hating and loving aunt ... Ann Goldstein’s translations would seem to do [the novels'] full justice. The Lying Life of Adults simply enriches a magnificent canon ... There’s not a weak page, let alone a weak novel, among the eight to date.
... readers who loved the Neapolitan novels will doubtless fall for this one, too, and will be happy to notice that the last line of the book can be interpreted as a hint of more to come ... Novels like The Lying Life of Adults do indeed contain wisdom, in this case insight into the wild drama of adolescence as seen through eyes of its protagonist. Giovanna is mesmerized and elated by her loss of innocence; Ferrante lets us both share the intensity of this formative experience and be amused by it. As in the Neapolitan novels, and in much of the best first-person fiction, the relationship between telling one’s life story and understanding oneself is central. As long as it is as well-told as Ferrante’s version, it is a story we never tire of.
Giannì is an unpredictable and unappealing narrator ... whether The Lying Life of Adults is a good novel or not is beside the point because Ferrante is a hypnotist. The opening sentence works like a swinging watch, and the reader is, for the next 300 pages, held under her spell. Ferrante achieves her mesmeric effect by numbing the reader with page after page of super-efficient and flavourless prose which push events forward like counters across a board, before throwing in a sentence of such devastating power that it gives us a heart attack ... Everyone in these pages behaves appallingly, and telling the truth serves no evident moral or artistic purpose. ‘The truth,’ as one of the lying adults explains to Giannì, and Ferrante explains to Claudio Gatti, ‘is difficult, growing up you’ll understand that, novels aren’t sufficient for it.’
Every Bildungsroman must have a story of first love and Ferrante doesn’t disappoint ... The story is compulsive, but the characters are more cartoonish than in the Neapolitan Quartet; Vittoria and her ample bosom especially. The writing can be overcooked — characters break off to talk about theology — and the metaphors can teeter into absurdity ... Yet if you are a Ferrante fan, you cannot help but submit to find out whether the darkness of adult deceit and family feuds gives way to Neopolitan sunshine.
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 ... Like a side-shoot that has taken on a life of its own, The Lying Life of Adults shares preoccupations with Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, though the focus here is two generations down the line ... Through the lies and truths of this compelling novel, Ferrante threads one of her talismanic objects, not a doll this time, but a mysterious glittering bracelet that, as in a fairytale, passes from hand to desirable hand. Who is the fairest of us all may not be the right question for women to ask, or anyone to judge.
... delivers everything that the pseudonymous author’s fans love about her work—or at least I think it does ... a coming-of-age story that appears to have everything to do with the minefields of sex and femininity as confronted by its teenage narrator in what appears to be the 1970s or ’80s. But like the Neapolitan novels themselves, this book derives much of its powerful momentum from the deeper currents of identity and class ... Ferrante depicts all of this with the utmost seriousness, in a prose style as mercurial as her teenage narrator ... Some scenes are depicted dramatically, while others are described in lengthy summaries ... shares with Ferrante’s great Neapolitan novels the sly knack of undercutting whatever straightforward thing it seems to be saying on its surface. Or perhaps, like Giovanna heading out on her journey down to Pascone, we each of us find in Ferrante’s fiction exactly what we’re seeking.
This novel is bleak ... It’s true that it’s impossible to tell if the thread of the story in this novel offers redemption or not. There is a glimmer of it, a glance of a possibility, in the final pages of the book, when Giovanna forms an alliance with her most ignored female friend. But it will take a whole other Ferrante novel, at least, for us to discover whether or not that friendship will be enough to redeem Giovanna from the existential despair into which men have thrown her.
Giovanna’s burgeoning love life is the underlying energy of the novel, the intrigue that keeps us hooked ... the distancing quality of translation, the measured, formalising effect, is in some ways fortuitous: is puberty not, after all, a time when we feel disassociated from ourselves, like aliens in our own skin? ... Somehow, Ferrante finds and asks the question that is at the heart of the adolescent experience, that underscores all the pettiness and the posturing and the bravado and the crippling self-doubt. 'I feel ugly, like I’m a bad person,' writes Giovanna, 'and yet I’d like to be loved.' Not silly at all.
The pangs of puberty lie at the heart of Elena Ferrante’s fictional explorations, bringing together her shrewd eye for fraught parent-child relationships, her sensitivity to physical desires and repulsions, and her interest in self-regard and self-presentation. It’s a novel ruled by the melodrama and disorder of the teenage mind but, as is Ferrante’s way, told both clinically and propulsively ... takes on a certain circular trajectory, from awed enlightenment to doubt ... It can be frustrating, but Ferrante ensures it’s never boring. The spiraling quest for answers has all the urgency of a serialized drama and is punctuated by shocking revelations. Giovanna may still be searching, by the end of the novel, for ways to stitch together her own narrative, but Ferrante knows exactly how to tell a story.
The narrative itself is captivating ... This weight on Giovanna’s grappling with the past may prove frustrating for readers, such as when Giovanna recalls hearing Roberto give a speech at church. The reader is not given this scene in present action, and yet it becomes the springboard for Giovanna’s fixation on him. Ferrante’s authorial decision to hinge Giovanna’s story on the recollection of this moment at the expense of the moment itself, however, is masterful rather than withholding; it’s a decision strongly rooted in character. Readers understand that Giovanna isn’t able to truly engage with her past.
... marvelous ... doesn’t reach the soaring heights of her masterpiece, The Story of a New Name, that is mainly an issue of the Ferrantean accumulation—deep networks of supporting characters, all with rich inner lives—being limited by the confines of a mere 320 pages ... sharply translated ... It’s almost as if Ferrante wanted to test herself, to see how far she could push her skill with signifiers. What should be ludicrous is instead delicious, as if Tolkien’s One Ring was forged to socially aggrieve ... The book’s tight focus on plot and character gives it an interesting fairytale aspect, but I found myself missing the contextual backdrop of The Neapolitan Novels. It takes a bit of work to find out we’re in the 1990s, and, with an almost total lack of time stamps, too much more work to remember ... The novel works as a stand-alone—the denouement resolves the question of the bracelet nicely—but as the opening salvo of a larger work, it would be still more effective. I wanted to go to the shelf, find the next volume in this series, and continue. Let’s hope that’s what Ferrante has in mind.
Ferrante captures, from Giovanna’s wounded perspective, the grotesquerie of stepfamilies and the implied interchangeability of daughters and spouses and houses ... feels like a novel about Ferrante’s novels, a mixture of familiar elements in new and unexpected arrangements that invites a self-referential reading. Not unlike an offspring, actually, which is appropriate for a novel that is essentially about being second generation. Giovanna is free, as her father never was, to make use of poor Naples as it suits her, and to leave the rest behind.
... [a] blistering bildungsroman ... This exuberant novel underscores the idea that 'the truth is difficult' and concludes with scalding truths about families and friends. As she did with her earlier heroines, Lenù and Lila, in My Brilliant Friend, Ferrante here presents another audacious character with more story to tell. Hopefully, The Lying Life of Adults augurs an auspicious start to another rewarding franchise.
Exquisitely translated, as ever, by Ann Goldstein, Ferrante masterfully evokes the agonies and insecurities of adolescence ... Like the face of an adolescent, The Lying Life of Adults is not flawless: the last line is somewhat wan compared with the bold strokes preceding it, and a talismanic heirloom bracelet used as a plot device is clunky in parts. But Ferrante has once again written a story meeting her own criterion for narrative, in which 'the facts of ordinary life – are extraordinarily gripping when read'. I devoured it greedily, in big gulps ... For an author who has fabricated elements of her biography beyond the necessities of protecting her identity, truth may be less about an accurate representation of facts than forging a deeper emotional resonance.
... slinky and scowling as a Neapolitan cat ... When awkwardness intrudes on Ferrante's smooth sentences, it is always meaningful ... Goldstein's expert translation allows the perfect amount of awkwardness ... There is some good, uncomplicated sex in this novel.
Ferrante’s prose is, as always, sharp and intimate, her situations loaded, but what precisely this is a story of is more difficult for the reader to suss out than in any of her other books ... a brilliantly simple construction: A woman and her niece are connected, in a cruel momentary lapse by the child’s father, and the child believes, for better or worse, that she is like her aunt. The novel is so single-minded on class and Giovanna’s naiveté that when, unlike with Lenù, other characters find Giovanna potently intelligent, it’s hard for the reader to fully believe it. Ultimately, Ferrante marches straight through the story of a wealthy child’s loss of innocence, and the novel only ends when the process is complete, if perhaps too abruptly ... To be sure, Ferrante is too sophisticated a writer to make honest and intelligent people only out of those who are not rich. But for Giovanna, that is how the world seems to operate. In a very different way than ever before, Ferrante has fashioned a knotty polemic about class and the shelters it provides. The kind of truth Costanza hides—that of her affair—is not 'difficult'. It is simply debased and shameful, and the novel is sufficient for it.
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'.
Ferrante revisits previously explored themes—violence against women, female friendships, the corrosive effects of class disparities—albeit in a more rarified sector of Naples (the privileged 'upper' neighborhood of Rione Alto) than in her earlier Neapolitan Quartet. Giovanna’s nascent sexuality is more frankly explored than that of previous Ferrante protagonists, permitting the author to highlight two sides of teen sexuality: agency and abuse. Goldstein’s fluid translation once again allows readers into the head of a young woman recalling with precision and emotion a series of events which lead to a point of confession. Ferrante’s legion of devoted readers will be encouraged by another equivocal ending, permitting the hope of further exploration of Giovanna’s journey in future volumes. A girl, a city, an inhospitable society: Ferrante’s formula works again!
... sumptuous ... Themes of class disparity and women’s coming-of-age are at play much as they were in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, but the depictions of inequality serve primarily as a backdrop to Giovanna’s coming-of-age trials that buttress the gripping, plot-heavy tale. 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.