I'd like to think that I'm the sort of person, the sort of reader, who will read Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels someday, but well I suspect that I'm not. Not really. I haven't read them yet, not even one, so the chance of me reading all four is, well, remote. Committing to one book is hard enough, but committing to four by reading one, well, that's near impossible.
So I was very excited to see that Elena Ferrante had written a children's book. I was moderately disconcerted by the weird looking doll on the cover, but I bought it anyway and read it recently while waiting for an appointment.
Oh my, it is so, so bizarre. The Beach at Night is narrated by Celina, a doll who has been accidentally left on the beach after her owner, five year old Mati, forgets about her after she is given a new kitten by her father. Celina is dropped like the proverbial hot potato. But seriously who takes a new kitten as a present to the beach?
Celina is left behind in the sand as night falls. She is then raked up by the Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset with all the other debris of the day, and rubbish left behind. Which makes me wonder if Italian beaches are routinely raked each night? Maybe I'll have to go to Italy one night and find out. Celina has a nightmarish night battling fire, water and the creepy Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset, who sings impossible songs that surely must sound better in Italian, and dribbles much more than he should.
I can't imagine that too many children would enjoy reading The Beach at Night. I'm not sure what adult Ferrante fans would think of it. My cover blurb calls the book a "wonderful children's fable", and tells us that with it "Elena Ferrante returns to a story at the heart of her novel The Lost Daughter, which she considers to be a turning point in her development as a writer."
I'm now more than a bit concerned about whether I'd like Ferrante's adult writing or not. I don't see how I would based on this smallest of tastes. The translator here is the same translator as her adult novels, so there must be some stylistic link?
American reviewers also struggled with this book. The Washington Post. The New York Times.