Who would want to be a teenager again? Not me. Nor, I imagine, the fictional narrator of Elena Ferrante's The Lying Life of Adults.
The book begins with Giovanna Trada remembering an incident when she was 12 years old: "my father said to my mother that I was very ugly". He goes further, explaining, "Adolescence has nothing to do with it: she's getting the face of Vittoria" his sister, whom Giovanna has never met. Piqued by a further description that in her aunt "ugliness and spite were combined to perfection", the young girl contrives to meet this woman to whom she bears a resemblance. As a consequence Giovanna discovers the working-class roots of her academic father, and learns that what adults say is not necessarily true.
It's not clear when the coming-of-age story is set, but since Giovanna uses a 'street atlas' rather than Google, and the 'telephone' is in the hall, not her pocket, I'm guessing the 1980s or early 1990s. The young Giovanna is as confused as Jason in David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, but aged sixteen, she knows what she wants and how to get it. She's far more mature than the 19-year-old Charles in Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers.
Like many teenagers Giovanna is moody and obstreperous. She tries to make sense of an adult world where everything is shifting and nothing is certain. Her parents are having problems, her school grades suffer, her body changes in frightening ways, and suddenly boys and young men begin to treat her differently, many unable to see past her breasts.
It's well-known that the author uses a pseudonym. There's been speculation, supported by 'research', that the work is in fact written by a man. Based on this book I think I can safely promise to eat my hat (or my bra) if Elena Ferrante turns out to be male.
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