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A Review of Elena Ferrante’s “The Lying Life of Adults”: a perfect study of human nature

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Ciao miei cari lettori! Oggi io voglio palare di uno degli autori più famosi d’italia, Elena Ferrante.

Today, I wanted to take you on a little literary journey and share some personal experiences with you. I first started studying Italian when I was in high school. I was eleven years old and had just come out of trying to learn Japanese in primary school. I was terrible at Japanese. I tried so hard, and yet, I just could not get it to stick in my head. Then Italian came along.

I got to travel to Italy for the first time when I was 14, and I spent some time there to study the language and see the sites. I stayed with a host family in Catania, Sicily. And the South will always have my heart. Italian was the first language I dared to be fluent in. It came naturally to me. I loved the way it sounded, I loved the drama of it, and I loved how freeing it felt to speak, think, and be in a different culture.

Arancini are life. Pistachio ice cream is the best flavour. Don’t @ me because you can’t handle the truth.

I loved the idea of getting my hands on Elena Ferrante’s recently published novel, because I think without actually knowing it, I was craving Italy. I was craving a place I had given a piece of my 14-year-old heart to, all those years ago. My Italian is like a rusty wheel now. If you pour enough oil on it, I can get it going – but now sometimes there is a mixture of Brazilian or German that comes out with it. So I decided to read Ferrante’s novel in translation. Who knows, one day I might get my Italian up to scratch again.

I read this for a book club, and sadly I was one of the only people who really enjoyed The Lying Life of Adults. Many people, all mostly unfamiliar with Italian culture, kept asking questions like, ‘But why are they so loud?’ and ‘Why do they have to touch each other all the time?’ And well, there are only so many times you can reply with: ‘Because they are Italian…’ before it starts to get old.

The world that Ferrante creates is so perfectly Italian to me. The main protagonist, Giovanna, was a young girl at the beginning of the novel and she grows into a teenager as the novel progresses. I couldn’t help but feel flung back into Catania as a 14 year-old trying to navigate life there.

The political nuances of the book like the use of dialect could be possibly lost on readers that aren’t familiar with the staunch rules and roles dialects in Italy, and Europe to a larger extent, can play. You can drive ten kilometres in Italy and have people speaking what can feel like a whole new language. Not only, dialect is tied with class and education – it creates socio-political divides in big cities like Napoli, where the story is set. So when Giovanna tries to learn dialect, it is an act of rebellion. It is a rejection of class and propriety. Her attempts at dialect, her dark out fits, and unconventional make up choices mark her, deliberately other her in certain social circles.

Ferrante also brilliantly addresses the relationship that children can have with their parents and wider families. Rifts between siblings can bleed into the next generation. This is something I know all too well. Sadly, just like in Ferrante’s novel, the children are often used as pawns to score blows between adults. The children become collateral damage. Giovanna wants to be loved by her zia (Aunty) Vittoria, but also doesn’t want to completely disregard her parent’s wishes. Vittoria also uses her nipote (niece) Giovanna, to get back at her brother. Adults manipulating their children to do their dirty work is so common, sadly. And Ferrante shows the ugly, vengeful, spiteful, and nasty side of families and adulthood all too well.

I absolutely loved the grittiness of Ferrante’s characters. She does such an amazing job at critically challenging contemporary Italian culture as well as a doing a fascinating job at delving into the inner workings of families and how this can affect us psychologically.

If you are not sure about Ferrante’s new novel, then I would strongly urge you to watch some documentaries or read some cultural histories of Italy to get you in the mood. Her writing is too good to miss. Come sempre, share the reading love.

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