Posts Tagged ‘Elena Ferrante’

‘The Lying Life of Adults’ by Elena Ferrante


The Lying Life of Adults’ by Elena Ferrante (2020) – 320 pages Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

I want to start here with an exercise for you. Try to remember your life situation when you were 13 years old, your family, your other relatives, your friends, your feelings, your school. If you are like me, you will remember a lot more details and recall much more vividly everything that was going on for you then than you would have guessed. Thirteen is the approximate age when we start breaking away from our family circumstances and begin to become independent persons. That’s also when we begin to realize that our parents are just two human beings with their own set of problems just like everyone else.

So what has this got to do with The Lying Life of Adults’? Here our main protagonist Giovanna is 13. Her father’s offhand remark which she overhears sets off a startling chain of events.

She’s getting the face of Vittoria.”

Giovanna is of course curious about this aunt Vittoria, and she finds out that her father and his sister Vittoria had a big fight, and that’s why their family never visits her. She starts asserting her independence by visiting her father’s enemy sister. Soon after that the marriage of Giovanna’s own parents falls apart.

I was completely engaged in the story of ‘The Lying Life of Adults’. Much of the novel is about the intrigues of relating to the opposite sex as an adolescent and teenager. This, of course, has been the subject of hundreds of novels, but Ferrante’s approach seems fresh and interesting for the most part.

Throughout we have mentions of a bracelet that Giovanna’s grandmother had worn, and the bracelet gets handed from person to person during the story. I suppose Grandma’s bracelet would be considered the objective correlative to use a fancy literary term, but the bracelet did seem a little too obvious and artificial as a literary device.

However, overall, ‘The Lying Life of Adults’ held my interest throughout. It’s a story of growing up in Naples, Italy, but probably is applicable around the world.

Lies, lies, adults forbid them and yet they tell so many.”

Perhaps as a further exercise, think about the lies which your parents told you when you were a child. I really couldn’t think of any outright lies my parents told me then.


Grade:    A-


‘The Story of the Lost Child’ by Elena Ferrante – Back to Naples, Italy

‘The Story of the Lost Child’ by Elena Ferrante   (2015) – 473 pages     Translated by Ann Goldstein


Now that Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels are completed, I added up all the pages and came up with a total of 1693 pages.  Since the four novels combined are the life story of the two girls, Lenu and Lila, from a poor neighborhood in Naples, Italy, I suppose at some point they will all be combined into one novel, and it will make even ‘War and Peace’ seem puny.

To me, these four novels have been highly addictive.  I appreciate movie director John Waters’ comment, “Elena Ferrante: the best angry woman writer ever!”

The two girls grow up to be not only angry women but tough and smart and enterprising.  In the earlier novels we got a total picture of the men and women in the families in their Naples neighborhood as the girls grow up.  It was not always a pretty picture, but it appeared to be emotionally true and real.  Now the girls are full adults themselves and make mistakes like most of us adults do.

At the beginning of ‘The Story of the Lost Child’, Elena has become a successful writer, and her novels are even translated into other languages.  She has a husband and two daughters, but she leaves her husband and children to take up with one of the boys, now an adult would-be writer himself, from her old neighborhood, Nino.  Once long ago during their teenage years, the two girls had gone on vacation with Nino’s family, and one night Lila had gone off with Nino leaving Elena behind.  This had made Elena so hurt, jealous, and angry that Elena had wound up sleeping with Nino’s father.  Now twenty years later, Nino, though still living with his wife, becomes Elena’s lover.  Nino even gets his wife pregnant during this time, and Elena puts up with the arrangement.  She even gets writing assignments for him with her publisher.

“Ma, today it’s not like it used to be.  You can be a respectable person even if you leave your husband, even if you go with someone else.”    

There are soap opera qualities to these novels just as there are in real life.

Elena Ferrante has written a story each of us ought to be able to write but don’t, the real story of a child growing up in a neighborhood.  I cannot think of any other novels that have captured the inhabitants of a neighborhood as well as these Neapolitan novels.

I suppose there might still be some debate as to whether Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels are great literature or not.  All I can say is that I have read these novels with the same eager interest and pleasure as I have read ‘Middlemarch’ and ‘War and Peace’.



Grade:    A

‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ by Elena Ferrante – Not Women’s Lit

‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ by Elena Ferrante   (2014) – 418 pages    Translated by Ann Goldstein

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Don’t let the cover mislead you.  The picture of a woman holding her small daughter looking out to the ocean gives the false impression that this is some Woman’s Lit novel.  I would hate to see males being scared off of some of the best fiction written this new century just because of this cover.

 “Nothing you read about Elena Ferrante’s work prepares you for the ferocity of it.”

Amy Rowland, NYT

‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ is written with an intense angry passion.  This is Italy during the 1970s.

Our two friends, Lenu and Lila, are now in their mid-twenties.  Lila has left her well-to-do wife-beating husband and lives with a man whom she doesn’t sleep with.   To support herself she must work in a sausage factory in Naples.  Meanwhile Lenu has left the city and has published a very popular risqué novel and tours the country promoting her book.

Lenu is now moving in book-publishing intellectual circles, but a meeting with Lila brings her back to her hometown of Naples and her old neighborhood.  Things are not going well with Lila at the sausage factory.  The boss routinely makes sexual advances on some of the female employees.  When Lila rejects his advances, she is given the absolute worst jobs to do in the sausage factory (which you probably can imagine).  The conditions for all the workers in the sausage factory are abysmal, and some try to organize.  When the boss and owners get wind of this, they send in a group of young fascist thugs to brutally beat up the worker leaders.  The workers retaliate and murder a couple of the young fascists.  This is not the kind of stuff you usually find in a woman’s novel.

Elena Ferrante gives us a complete picture by focusing on two women, one who flees the old neighborhood and one who stays or is stuck there.  Lenu, with her college education and book writing, feels like she has escaped her old Naples neighborhood, but there is always something drawing her back into the turmoil.  I think what Ferrante is saying is that there is no real escaping those old primal primitive bonds of our early childhood.

Elena Ferrante never paints a pretty or sentimental picture of the lives of these two young women.  You are always fully aware that life is a struggle especially for women in Italy at that time.

Those who are tempted to read ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ should realize that it is a continuation of the story.  In order to get all the necessary background, you should start with the first novel ‘My Brilliant Friend’ and then the second ‘The Story of a New Name’ before reading this one.  A fourth one is planned for next year.


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