Giovanna, a meek, obedient 12-year-old growing up in a middle-class part of Naples, overhears her father comparing her to his estranged sister Vittoria, who her parents had always described as someone in whom "ugliness and nastiness were perfectly matched”. His words precipitate a series of events that throw Giovanna’s life into chaos as she attempts to unravel the reasons behind the family fallout.
... 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.
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.
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.