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.
We sold exactly zero copies of this book at work. You may have, in fact, purchased the only copy sold in Australia!!
It horrified us all. But my colleague who loved and adored the adult series was so upset, she actually hid most of the books, so that they couldn't be easily found by customers!
We're not sure who the intended audience for the book was, but it certainly wasn't children.
The doll does refer back to some of the themes in the her adult books, but the link was pretty tenuous.
I did struggle at times with the adult books, wondering the same as you, if it was the translation or the original at fault...or me!
Oh Brona how I like the notion that I bought the only copy sold in Australia! I'm going to give it to my library, so perhaps they will have the only library copy available in Australia?
No, I didn't think it was for children either, but then I always wonder at illustrated offerings like this, presented mostly as a picture book- who is it for?
I did have to laugh at your colleague hiding the books! I had never really thought about bookshop staff doing that. If you struggled with the adult books, then I think I will perhaps leave them until after I have finished reading Virginia Woolf i.e. sometime after I'm dead.
Hiding books is not something we promote, but strategic placement of books next to each other is often very deliberate (like the time we displayed John Howard's bio next to a book about the refugee crisis).
Customers have also been known to hide books in weird places around the shop - one of our regulars is having fun filing 1984 in the non-fiction section at the moment :-)
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