The lying life of adults, the fried torpor of the city

I have read every novel by Elena Ferrante, an author without a face or a confirmed identity, and I have had it read again by the voice of Anna Bonaiuto in the Emons audiobooks, having seen every film and television transposition starting from Mario Martone, read the articles, interviews, essays by and about; it has always seemed to me that with a clear and articulated writing he unraveled the vast subject of the feminine, the sciences of growing up, of being and of becoming in a city, Naples, which, however traveled and shaken by changes, ends up remaining equal to itself. At the end of 2019, I therefore bought, read and finished The lying life of adults in just one day. I didn’t like it or maybe it’s more correct to say that, since I’ve always liked everything so much, my expectations were so high that it was easy to be disappointed. It seemed to me that Ferrante had remixed stories, names, themes, pieces of jewelery and pieces of the city with less effectiveness and that, as happens with real doughs that I have seen so many times at work, the bond had not held, the magic of successful leavening only halfway, the oven opened too soon. Yet I tried again and saw the brand new Netflix series directed by Edoardo De Angelis. First perception, hot: the casatiello was better here, but – if the comparison with the cornerstones of traditional Neapolitan cuisine still holds up – the ingredients were taken from those vacuum-packed bags of ready-made and shredded sausages and cheeses which, with the approaching the holidays, you can find them in bulk in the refrigerated counter of city supermarkets.

Already seen, already read, is that the problem? Spoilers: nope

The lying life of adults is Ferrante’s first novel after the great international success of the volumes de The brilliant friend. Once again a story of Neapolitan training, but shorter and more collected, with the thirteen-year-old Giovanna known as Giannina who comes into contact and collision with the disowned part of her family and her city, in Naples in the 1990s. The somewhat hypocritical bourgeoisie of parents and family friends, all ideology and little commitment, dinners in the living room and terraces overlooking the sea, is therefore contrasted by the painful and concrete humanity of the suburbs, of the aunt who speaks clearly and face to face and, if he must believe in something, he prefers the community, the church, God in the version of the least and politics in the practice of sharing and fighting. A maturation that seems to go, therefore, geographically, in the opposite direction to that of Lila and Lenù, but the character of Giannina seems to take the threads from that of Dede, the eldest daughter of the narrative voice of theBrilliant friend, Vittoria constantly recalls, but with less tragedy, the adult Lila of the last chapter of the tetralogy, the man she loves – the only one to remember – has the same name, Enzo; in both cases, fortunately with different twists, there is a bracelet to mark the bonds; the area in which part of the narration moves is very close to that of the District and already connected and pigeonholed in Ferrante’s first novel, Annoying love. This may or may not be liked, but it certainly does not surprise loyal readers, used to finding in the stories of this author the germ of new stories, the main and recurring themes of urban marginality, self-discipline, dolls, the “poor girl” gone mad for love.

But how many times is it possible to imagine and tell the exact same story? All fans of recursive structures will remember Umberto Eco and what “amuses us not by revealing something new to us, but by reiterating what we already knew”. Others will quote the Exercises of style by Raymond Queneau which started from a single, very banal scene – a guy tossed about on a packed bus – to make 99 different versions of it, identical in plot and development of events, differing in rhetorical structure, from the vulgar to the bombastic, from the press release to the sonnet and so on. But it would be enough to have looked Beautiful for a few months or remember the scene Of Dear Diary by Nanni Moretti to know that the re-proposition of narrative styles works. To how many cultural, audiovisual, narrative, musical, Italian and non-Italian products, of today and yesterday, could we apply and tick the boxes “horns between spouses”, “betrayal by a friend”, “fascination for the beautiful and impossible which turns out to be rather petty”, “rich neighborhood versus very poor suburb”, “difficult and restless but true and pure adolescence”, “maturity that can only be reached by going away”? The lying life of adults it exhausts the entire series but if there is a problem it is not what has already been seen, heard or already read, but rather a confusion and overlapping of elements still very fresh in the public’s memory, evident in the novel as in the series version.

In many episodes there is a reference, above all in the diegetic and political use of the music, to the last season of theBrilliant friend directed by Daniele Lucchetti, and there is an actor, Giovanni Buselli, there Enzo Scanno and here Roberto Matese. But rather than rediscovering atmospheres from other transpositions starting from the opera Ferrante, the sprite that hovers to the astonishment of many is another, it is that of Paolo Sorrentino with It was the hand of God distributed, as well as in cinemas, by Netflix. Perhaps it is inevitable, one year after the release of the Oscar-nominated film, to make comparisons and find similarities between teenage protagonists, nicknames that lengthen rather than shorten the first name, earplugs, wealthy bourgeois who declare themselves communists, mopeds, and above all Naples, bluish, upper city and lower city always opposed, now in the mid-eighties, now in the mid-nineties. And here it is, therefore, the real question: in addition to consuming stories, is it possible that a city is being consumed?

Naples, scenario of the soul (and Vittoria would say “and who died there”)

If it seems urgent to talk about sustainable tourism in Naples today, is it right or possible to talk about a narrative that does not reverberate by collapsing on its fragile shoulders? What is certain is that sooner or later we will have to start asking ourselves in terms of social determinism, how much the audiovisual productions set in Naples have influenced the idea that the Neapolitans themselves have of Naples. For a long time, especially during and post Gomorrah, the inhabitants felt invested, some more and some less, with the role of defenders of a much less pulp and theatrical life than shown in the Sky series; in 2017, the Municipality led by Luigi De Magistris even set up one door to protect the city to collect reports from citizens on prejudices and toxic narratives, damaging the reputation of Naples. Many, not fully understanding that the fictional story neither ennobles nor hurts everyday life in the long run, rejoiced at the attention the city was gaining in terms of image. But daily life is affected by services to citizens, which are always scarce, and this is how, in daily life, the citizen finds himself looking on the screen at the city under his feet and out the window, feeling nostalgic as if he had emigrated.

The lying life of adults becomes the sincere non-existence of so many kids of yesterday: those who, in the 1990s were seriously like Giannina, the age in which you want everything to pass quickly, today rediscover the marvel of Piazza del Plebiscito with the Mountain of salt by Mimmo Paladino and lets himself be drawn into the vision, rather than by the plot, by the music of Massive Attack, Almamegretta, 99Posse, by a still unknown Gigi D’Alessio outside the network of alleys of the historic centre. But while the controversy over the scenic representation of self-managed and occupied spaces such as Officina 99 mounts, the juicy piece of discussion, on which it could even be useful to debate, has not yet been touched: the story of a left-wing progressive and bourgeois citizen, whose ideals they sound like an oxymoron. They weren’t born into economic poverty, they resist only in the will to honor with memory, battles that have already been won in everyday life, whose effort has been more than disposed of. In Picone sent me by Nanni Loy, the class struggle was switched to the beautiful house in via Manzoni, to the new television; neither The lying life of adults the sol of the future lies in the purchase of a house in Rione Alto and in friendships in Posillipo. But for Unity Day we need to go back to the suburbs, recognize the value of the margins and the last ones, listen to them and discuss with them, say yes, it’s you, this is where it all begins. Looking over your shoulder is inevitable when you look in the mirror, partly out of convenience, partly out of necessity, at a certain point you must recognize similarities, points of commonality, origins and arrivals. A Naples of the soul, but, in line with Vittoria’s character, we should say “of the soul ‘e chi v’e muorto'”.

The last point to note is in the language de The lying life of adults, the great use of swear words, idioms, set phrases, dialect. Roberto who is in a hurry keeps the snow in his pocket “a neve dint”a sacca”, ready to melt; Giovanna, in order to grow, must do “head and shit”, or get hurt in the clash with the dirtiest reality, and the mantra phrase, constantly repeated to detail the perspectives shifted by age: “Quann’ si piccirill’, everything it looks big to you. When you gruoss, everything seems nothing to you”. But why for years it seems that in Naples everyone speaks only in life maxims, in elegiac couplet, drawing universal truths from anything? Example: let’s take the sentence ‘Life is tough and nobody helps you. Translation: “life is hard and nobody helps you”. Who said it? a) Victory in The lying life etc.; b) Lenuccia’s mother in My Brilliant Friend; c) Immaculate Savastano in Gomorrah; d) A character less than Mine September. Let the reader choose what he deems most plausible before realizing that it is the bewildered Pasquale Lojacono in These ghosts by Eduardo De Filippo, year 1945, as further proof that nothing new is being invented and that this joke would suit all the characters, as if they all spoke the same language. With their saying borders, duality, rivalry, time and comparisons are annulled. Naples always double thus finds union in the story and, in the narrative overexposure, sees the saturation of landscapes, uses, customs, characters, music. But the real season to pay attention to is not that of a TV series, but that of record tourists, a crowd that takes the shape of the alley in which it unfolds and, eating fried cuoppi, occupies the city.

(Preview image: grab via YouTube)

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The lying life of adults, the fried torpor of the city

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