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.
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.
When I first read The Lying Life of Adults , her latest novel, I made a careful assessment: too much about a bracelet. On my second reading, I revised my opinion somewhat: the most about a bracelet that a book has ever been ... feels like one of the earlier, slimmer Ferrante stories, operating at the length of one of the instalments of the Neapolitan Quartet ... The dialogue is intensely detached from human rhythms – almost like Beckett in certain places, if he wrote a long play about handjobs. This is the result, perhaps, of a concerted attempt to write ‘younger’ ... When Giovanna at long last loses her virginity, Ferrante’s chosen language prevents us from getting close enough to the experience to touch it; it was chosen for verisimilitude and ends up preventing verisimilitude entirely ... It is a book written from the point of view of a teenage daughter, whom the writer resents for having been born with everything. But you don’t see a teenage daughter clearly, not enough to let her be interesting. You are not quite ready to be her Before; there is some line of love-hatred between you that will not let you look directly at that fresh, insulting form ... Ferrante is yours not when you love all of her books without exception, but when you hate a few of them irrationally, almost as enemies of your happiness.