The Lying Life of Adults (La vita bugiarda degli adulti in Italian), one of Elena Ferrante’s most recent books, has been made into a Netflix series.
Before Christmas, I read that this new show based on Elena Ferrante’s book would debut on Netflix on January 5th and I thought I had better read the book before watching the tv series.
As you may know, I am not the biggest fan of Elena Ferrante. I absolutely admire her impeccable prose, her use of language, and the way she describes her characters – her mastery in using adjectives always strikes me. However, for some reason, her stories do not capture me.
I have read L’amica geniale – My Brilliant Friend in English – years ago and I enjoyed it but I have never felt the urge to read the other books of the quadrilogy. I kept saying that I should read them but somehow never really committed to doing it. Last year, I read La figlia oscura – The Lost Daughter in English – and although I admired the elegant prose, I wasn’t really captivated by the book.
This is more or less what happened with The Lying Life of Adults as well. I haven’t read the actual book yet listened to it on audiobook – the Italian version is read by the amazing Neapolitan actress Anna Bonaiuto and I love her! – and my opinion remains the same: the prose is stunning but probably too cold and distant for me.
Although Elena Ferrante always writes about human relationships and powerful emotions, somehow I do not feel involved. But this is just me: many people love Elena Ferrante’s books and she always gets fantastic reviews from literary critics, so don’t be influenced by my point of view and don’t miss the chance to enjoy some great literature!
Like all other Elena Ferrante books, The Lying Life of Adults is set in Naples. One of the things I loved about the book is the constant repetition of street names and places in the city and while listening to the book I would always find myself looking them up on Google Maps, so I have also virtually traveled around Naples while reading the novel. I have never been to the city and I can honestly say this book really made me want to go there!
The book is a coming-of-age story told by Giovanna, a teenage girl who lives in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Naples. Her parents are both professors and she is living a happy yet uneventful childhood. One day though, she hears her father say that she looks more and more like her Aunt Vittoria every day.
She knows that everybody hates Aunt Vittoria in her family, to the point that she has never met her. There are no pictures of her in the house and nobody even mentions her. But now she absolutely wants to see her. She wants to meet that Aunt that her parents despise so much. The meeting with Vittoria, a vulgar yet passionate lady who lives in one of the poorest areas of the city, changes everything for her.
Vittoria unfolds secrets from the past and basically throws Giovanna’s life into chaos. She is now torn between two worlds, the refined Naples of the heights and the vulgar one of the depths, and by moving between them, Giovanna tries to find her truth. She goes through pain and discomfort and tries to make sense of everything that’s happening to her but she is alone in doing so because the adults are deeply involved in their own lives and do not seem to care.
After reading the book, I started watching The Lying Life of Adults on Netflix and I have to admit that I enjoyed it way more than the book itself. The screen adaptation is really close to the book – to the point of using the same lines and dialogues, in certain cases – but adds a visual element that makes the story more powerful. Naples is a character in itself and so are the locations where actions take place.
Moreover, the two actresses playing the two main roles are really great. Giovanna is played by Giordana Marengo, a young girl who makes an impressive debut, while Vittoria is played by Valeria Golino, who is perfect at portraying the fierceness of Vittoria. Both the acting and the imagery give the story an energy that somehow the book lacks, at least in my opinion, and that’s what made me like it way more.
If you want to read more about the tv series, you can check this review by The Guardian, and here is the official trailer on Netflix if you are curious about it. If you are interested in reading the book, you can find it in English translated by Ann Goldstein and published by Europa Editions.
Have you read Elena Ferrante’s books? What do you think of them?
If you are looking for interesting ways to practice your Italian daily, I’d suggest you check my program called Giorno dopo giorno, a daily Italian practice.
If you sign up for Giorno dopo giorno, you will receive an email every other day for 365 days. Each email will contain a prompt, a little exercise, something to watch, read, or listen or something that will gently force you to practice your Italian every day, making it part of your daily routine.