The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante
A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier
Thanks to the algorithms of library book holds, I received two novels in rapid succession: first, The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, and, just a few days later, A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier.
I was looking forward to reading Lying Life. I read Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend series at a ferocious clip, so I was ready for another captivating experience. It would be difficult for a single novel to match the scope of a four-book series, of course.
Lying aims to be passionate, introspective, and insightful, but it lacks spark. I regretfully found myself losing interest in the story and in the voice of its first-person narrator, Giovanna. As the title makes clear, her coming-of-age revelations are centered around the lying habits of adults: “Lies, lies, adults forbid them and yet they tell so many.”
At thirteen, Giovanna is beginning to emerge from her parents’ protective cocoon. When her father lets slip that she (unfortunately) reminds him of his mysterious sister Vittoria, Giovanna makes it her mission to meet this aunt, thereby unraveling family secrets, meeting people from less-privileged strata of Neapolitan society, and growing from child to adult: “Maybe at that moment something somewhere in my body broke, maybe that’s where I should locate the end of my childhood. I felt as if I were a container of granules that were imperceptibly leaking out of me through a tiny crack.”
The Lying Life of Adults is a story about a teen aimed at adults. A Castle in the Clouds is a young-adult novel—something I hadn’t realized when I read an NPR review of the book back in January and added it to my library holds list. (The last YA novel I read was The Hunger Games.) No matter.
First-person narrator Sophie is a seventeen-year-old who’s doing an internship at an alpine lodge after dropping out of high school. Like Giovanna, she has a fraught relationship with her parents, but she’s catapulted herself out of their orbit; they’re a rare mention in her story, which is about the trials, tribulations, and occasional triumphs of being a maid, laundry aide, and babysitter at a once-posh resort teetering on the brink of insolvency.
Sophie has her share of introspective moments, amidst obsessing about her first kiss, jewel thieves, and kidnappers. But Castle is a fun and funny page-turner. It’s reassuring to discover that not all young adults are as bitterly disillusioned as Giovanna; some are okay with building snow dragons with preschoolers, feeding crumbs to window-sill-hopping jackdaws, and scuttling down coal chutes to elude the bad guys.