Translator: Ann Goldstein

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

Posted October 15, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 6 Comments

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena FerranteTitle: The Lying Life of Adults (Goodreads)
Author: Elena Ferrante
Translator: Ann Goldstein
Published: Europa Editions, 2020
Pages: 322
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

What I love about reading Elena Ferrante is the way she is always writing about the experiences of women from a social-political standpoint. She always gives the reader a wide range of emotions and can make them feel uncomfortable with the situation but in a way that does not cause many to abandon her books. I have read all Ferrante’s works of adult fiction and was happy to see that my in-real-life book club was doing her latest release The Lying Life of Adults. Honestly, sometimes I think I go to my book club just to complain about the books we read, but I also attend to try and improve my ability to talk about literature with real life humans.

The Lying Life of Adults is the story of Giovanna, who is a young woman that is quickly discovering all the drama happening within her family. She learns why her father and her aunt Vittoria do not talk, and basically uncovers all the hostility and fighting that has been happening in the family all her life. This is not the easiest information to uncover, the adults all have their own side of the stories and they are all lying to make themselves look better in every situation. Ferrante’s books always deal with domestic drama and The Lying Life of Adults is no different, but what I really enjoyed about this novel, is the way it focuses on the lies.

It is hard to talk about The Lying Life of Adults without mentioning the Neapolitan series, those books got plenty of attention and will be the basis of all Ferrante critiques. Which is justifiable, the approach Elena Ferrante takes when writing really focuses heavily on the life of women living in Naples, particularly looking at sexism and domestic abuse. I find that The Lying Life of Adults seems to have similarities with The Story of a New Name, book two in the Neapolitan series. Both books have characters in the late teens, exploring the balance between family, love and academia. This journey fascinates me; I want to learn about young women discovering just how messed out their family is, while also realising how horrible men are, all while trying to decide their plans for the future.

Personally, I would have preferred if Elena Ferrante really dove into the psychological state of Giovanna. Not to mention the exploration into the feelings of attraction, sexuality, and emotion. There is so much that could have been unpacked if she wanted to really explore the damaging nature of these lies, and the effects they would have had on Giovanna’s outlook and future. I am fascinated for a deeper dive into the emotional damage, but I understand why Ferrante grazed over these topics. Not everyone wants to explore domestic abuse in so much detail and it would greatly change the tone of the novel.

If you have never read Elena Ferrante before, this might be a good place to start, I personally recommend The Days of Abandonment as a starting point, but this would work too. Fans of the Neapolitan series may not need any encouragement to check out The Lying Life of Adults but I hope you do. Obviously, I really enjoyed this novel, I think Ferrante is doing an excellent job at helping bring translated literature into the spotlight, thanks to the amazing work of Ann Goldstein.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Posted December 15, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

The Story of a New Name by Elena FerranteTitle: The Story of a New Name (Goodreads)
Author: Elena Ferrante
Translator: Ann Goldstein
Series: The Neapolitan Novels #2
Published: Text, 2012
Pages: 471
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Following directly after the events of My Brilliant Friend comes the next novel in the Neapolitan series. Lila is now married and Elena’s own attempts of romance are a little more complicated. Although Elena is also focusing on her academic and literary career. The Story of a New Name continues the story of the two friends living in Naples from the age of about sixteen to their mid-twenties.

I was enjoying being in the world of Lila and Elena that I picked up The Story of a New Name as soon as I had finished My Brilliant Friend. A novel that I found far more enjoyable than the first one. The two woman are now adults, thinking about their lives and planning for a future. I found that their world had opened up a lot more, with more details about Naples and the political tensions of Italy. I like how Elena Ferrante wrote these books with the world expanding to the reader in the same way it would to the characters.

It is difficult to talk about the plot within The Story of a New Name as it would spoil My Brilliant Friend. However I have been enjoying the character development found in this series. Both Elena and Lila (and all other characters) often make unexpected decisions or stupid mistakes but this just makes the novels feel more genuine. It is hard to predict how a character will act because they are constantly growing and changing and when you think you have worked them out, they do something different. This has kept me hooked and makes me want to move onto book three Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, though I have decided to hold off.

The only problem I found with The Story of a New Name involved a sex scene at the start of the novel. I am not sure if this was the work of Elena Ferrante or the translator Ann Goldstein but when referring to both male and female genitals drastically changed. The terms “his sex” and “her sex” just irritates me and I have no idea why these terms were used in book two and not in the first one. I have heard that Elena Ferrante wrote this series without many re-writes so it is possible this was just a consistency issue but it still annoyed me.

I am loving this series, and like I said with My Brilliant Friend, it is not for the faint of heart. You get to experience all the highs and lows of the two women’s lives and there are some pretty devastating lows. Although they have hard lives, both Lila and Elena are strong, independent and brilliant women and I really enjoy that about these characters. I plan to read book three and four next year just to give myself a little break but I really want to return to this world. Only problem with that is I will finish the Neapolitan series far too quickly.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Posted December 11, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

My Brilliant Friend by Elena FerranteTitle: My Brilliant Friend (Goodreads)
Author: Elena Ferrante
Translator: Ann Goldstein
Series: The Neapolitan Novels #1
Published: Text, 2013
Pages: 331
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Elena Ferrante has become a literary sensation lately, with the four-part Neapolitan series. These books are a bildungsroman that explores the lives of friends Elena and Lila. My Brilliant Friend follows their childhoods and teenage years, living in Naples during the 1950s. There are speculations that this series is autobiographical but Elena Ferrante is so secretive and does not do interviews, so no one can know for sure.

First of all, I think I need to point out that Naples in 1950 was a rough time. Naples was the first Italian city to rise up against the Nazi occupation, in fact when American troops landed they found that the city was already liberated. After the war, while Italy was trying to rebuild and recover, a majority of the focus remained in Rome and this southern city did not much get more attention. The Italian Social Movement and neo-fascist movements across Italy caused plenty of political tension.

Having said that, for Elena and Lila, their entire world consisted of the few blocks they grew up in. Not knowing the devastation running across Italy, these two friends focused on their own problems, both having a very tough life with plenty of dark moments seeping into this novel. Do not expect a normal coming of age story, these two brilliant friends have to live through devastating moments and conditions, making this novel not for the faint of heart.

I compared My Brilliant Friend with The Valley of Dolls in the sense that it explores the life of these girls through their up and downs. I loved the experience of exploring their lives and I find myself taking the time with the book, not wanting it to end. Luckily there are three other books in the series and I did indeed move onto The Story of a New Name right away.

My biggest complaint with this book was trying to keep the characters straight. Elena is often called Lenù which can be confusing, and Lila is also called Raffaella. Most people have multiple names and it can be hard to tell who is a part of the Greco, Cerullo, Sarratore or Solara family. Luckily there is a list of characters at the front of the book to help understand who each person is and their relationship to everyone else.

While devastating, I really enjoyed reading My Brilliant Friend, and as I have already said, I started The Story of a New Name right after finishing book one. I enjoyed immersing myself this fictional world of Naples, I need to get all the books in this series. I wish I knew more about Elena Ferrante because I am curious to know how much of this is true to life. Her books seemed to become a sensation overnight, despite the fact that she had written a few books previously including The Days of Abandonment and The Lost Daughter.