The Lying Life of Adults: A flawed but gripping return

Book review: Elena Ferrante’s first novel since Neapolitan quartet masterfully evokes adolescence

‘Elena Ferrante masterfully evokes the agonies and insecurities of adolescence.’ File photograph: Getty Images

‘Elena Ferrante masterfully evokes the agonies and insecurities of adolescence.’ File photograph: Getty Images

“Two years before leaving home my father said to my mother that I was very ugly,” begins Elena Ferrante’s new novel, her first since the global sensation of the Neapolitan quartet. Twelve-year-old Giovanna, up until then the apple of her father’s eye, overhears him saying that she is “getting the face” of his estranged sister Vittoria.

It is an insult inspired by Flaubert, as we learn in Ferrante’s Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey (2016). Struck by Emma Bovary’s observation that her daughter Berthe is ugly, Ferrante aspired to “place it somewhere on a page of [Ferrante’s] own”.

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