The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante audiobook review – faith and deceit

‘Two years before moving out, my father told my mother I was really ugly,” begins Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults in an echo of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. When 12-year-old Giovanna, from an affluent neighbourhood in Naples, overhears her father compare her to his hated sister, Vittoria, about whom he once said “ugliness and spite were combined to perfection”, her world is turned upside down. She had always sought the approval of her father, a leftwing intellectual and teacher who, in turn, took pride in his daughter’s studiousness. But in the early years of adolescence, Giovanna has become unsure of his love and of herself, and has let her grades slip. She knows little about her aunt, whose name was akin to “a monstrous being who taints and infects anyone who touches her”. And so, after leafing through old family photos in which Vittoria’s face is scratched out, she resolves to find her and discover the truth of her estrangement from her father.

Ferrante’s 2019 novel, an adaptation of which came to Netflix this month, spans three years in the life of Giovanna, and explores themes of class, faith, family and the lies people tell each other. The actor Marisa Tomei is the narrator, capturing the hurt and doggedness of the young protagonist, and the transgressive rebellion of the chain-smoking Vittoria. Giovanna’s path to understanding the adult world is often painful though, as the years pass, she attains a new wisdom, gaining power over adults and their deceit by telling lies of her own.

• Available on Random House Audio, 10hr 21min

Further listening

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
Shehan Karunatilaka, Bolinda Publishing, 14hr 17min
Shivantha Wijesinha reads the Sri Lankan novelist’s Booker prize-winning tale in which Maali, a former photographer and gambler, discovers he has died and is marooned in the afterlife’s answer to the tax office.

Ayoade on Top
Richard Ayoade, Audible Studios, 4hr 39min
The comedian, presenter and co-creator of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace narrates this odd but enjoyably meta critique of the film View from the Top, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.