Accidentally left at the beach by a five-year-old girl named Mati, a doll endures a disturbing night by the sea in pseudonymous novelist Ferrante’s (nominal) first children’s book. Narrating in first person, the doll doesn’t mince words, whether about the cat that she fears has displaced her (“I hope he has diarrhea, and vomits, and stinks so much that Mati is grossed out and gets rid of him”) or about the Mean Beach Attendant who shows up, rakes the doll and other discarded objects into a pile, and sets them on fire, all while singing an obscene song (“Open your maw/ I’ve shit for your craw/ Drink up the pee/ Drink it for me”). Readers only learn the doll’s name, Celina, when the beach attendant pulls a hook from his mouth, “hanging on a disgusting thread of saliva,” to steal it from her. Cerri’s eerie scenes of the glassy-eyed doll are well-suited to the ominous nature of Ferrante’s story, but although Celina and Mati are eventually reunited, it’s the disconcerting combination of the doll’s intensely human emotions and complete lack of agency that leaves the strongest impression. Ages 6–10. (Nov.)
Illustrator Mara Cerri talks about her illustrations, and the author’s playful balance of dark and light.
“I wish that those who look at my drawings could feel there is a little ripple on the surface of reality,” Mara Cerri said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
The illustrator’s haunting drawings have graced the covers of books and magazines across Italy, including, most recently, Elena Ferrante’s children’s book, The Beach at Night, newly published in English.
It makes sense that an artist who defines herself as “surreal […] but with reality as a reference point” would be tasked with translating Ferrante’s words into images. In the author’s Neapolitan series, one of the two main characters, Lina, continually notes that she sees blurred boundaries in her visual field – an unsettling experience that both bolsters her creative mind and makes it difficult for her to want to leave her dangerous, stifling home in Naples.
The Beach at Night has several similarities to the series chronicling Lina and her friend Lena’s coming of age. In the Neapolitan novels, the girls become friends when they lose their beloved dolls. The Beach at Night is told from the perspective of a doll who’s left behind on a beach, and chronicles the journey she goes on after she’s abandoned.
While lying on the cold beach, the doll thinks, “I’m very sad, and angry, too.” Like something out of “Toy Story,” her owner has replaced her with a shinier toy ― a pet cat. “I hope he has diarrhea, and vomits,” the doll thinks.
The story ― although written for children ― handles some of the same cerebral themes Ferrante confronts in her adult novels. The doll loses a necklace bearing her name, and, without her name, she feels lost and empty. “Now I’m just a little doll without a Name,” she laments.
Ferrante, of course, has wrapped the concept of names and identity into her own approach to writing and authorial fame. She chose to write under a pen name, conducting interviews through her publisher to protect her carefully concealed identity. Earlier this month, that identity was revealed in an investigation by The New York Review of Books.
“I had loved her choice of anonymity,” Cerri told HuffPost. But, names and pen names aside, the illustrator finds much to love in the author’s work. Raised by a family of women, Cerri believes Ferrante’s female protagonists allow her to better connect with the stories.
The story – although written for children – handles some of the same cerebral themes Ferrante confronts in her adult novels.
Due to her respect for the author, she reached out to get a better sense of direction for her accompanying illustrations. But Ferrante ― via her publisher ― said that she trusted Cerri, and gave her artistic license to interpret the story as she pleased. The result is a series of soft-edged, dark and dreamlike images, depicting the coexistence of fear and fantasy that so many children experience when playing make-believe.
Cerri said she was interested in communicating the “enigmatic and subtle balance between dark and light, real and fantastic, visible and invisible.”
“Shadow is not always the dark in the negative sense,” she added, “but something momentarily submerged.”
View Mara Cerri’s illustrations for The Beach at Night, published by Europa Editions, below:
The Beach at Night is a book for children — short (21 pages of text, along with many full-page illustrations (by Mara Cerri)), printed in large typeface, and narrated by a five-year-old girl’s doll. It is a simple but also dark tale: the girl, Mati, and the doll, Celina, have a good relationship, but in the excitement of the father bringing Mati a cat, Minù, Celina is forgotten at the beach at the end of the day and spends an unpleasant night. There is a happy ending — a very happy one, as pretty much everything gets sorted out as dawn breaks the next morning — but Celina certainly had some heavy experiences up to that point.
Ferrante sets the scene effectively, from Mati’s brother dumping sand on her as he digs a hole — helping ensure she’s overlooked when they leave the beach — to Celina’s dislike of the cat that has, in an instant, usurped her role and gets all the attention. She still believes in Celina, however — “Maybe it’s just a game she invented to scare me”, she rationalizes.
Celina doesn’t just have to deal with the elements, but also the Mean Beach Attendant and the Big Rake, who rake her up, along with all the rest of the end-of-day detritus left on the beach. Looking over their haul when they’ve raked everything together they’re disappointed by the ugly doll — but still see some possibility of cashing-in, suspecting she “still has words in her”. Celina does, but suppresses them:
I quickly collect all Mati’s words and hide them in my chest. Only the Name she gave me stays behind.
That’s not enough to impress the Mean Beach Attendant and his colleague, and Celina’s fate looks to be sealed in very unpleasant fashion. She struggles to hold onto her words and identity, but the forces working against her — human and natural — are near-overwhelming. Respite, of sorts, comes underwater in the ocean — where: “The words that Mati taught me are quiet. They float inside my chest, inside my stomach” — but the Mean Beach Attendant hasn’t given up on fishing her (and them) out.
It all works out, however: an unlikely savior comes and brings Celina back into the family fold, where Mati has been crying all night over her lost doll.
While everything works out, Celina’s trials are very menacing, and elemental as they are — literally too (fire and water), as well as the no less discomfiting attentions of the big males (promising, for example: “The tongue I slice / Right off, in a trice”) — may be too close for comfort for the kids. Ferrante’s focus on language (over anything physical) as the essential part of Celina helps make the physical discomforts slightly easier to take — but the concern about what happens when Celina loses her name and words, the fate she imagines, then is almost no less terrifying:
I won’t remember anything. I won’t know how to say anything, not even the dear name of Mati.
Unable to act — she’s a doll and she can’t move by herself — she’s at the mercy of those (and of nature) around her. All she has is her words — sufficient, when she’s with Mati, but overnight also putting her in more danger, because the Mean Beach Attendant wants them.
It’s hard not to see The Beach at Night as nightmare-inducing: between coming close to being burnt alive (well, doll-alive) and being submerged in the ocean, Ferrante’s descriptions can be almost too vivid. Then there’s the disagreeable figure of the Mean Beach Attendant, a constantly threatening presence. The affection, confidence, and trust Celina has in the mini-mother-figure that is Mati counters some of this, but one has to wonder whether it is sufficient.
Or, of course, one can consider that it’s okay to terrify the kids for a bit: after all, Ferrante does set everything calmly, nicely right again, in a very reassuring manner. But, yes, she only does so after all — and that all is quite a difficult journey to go through, for doll and reader alike.
Early American reactions — reviews in The Washington Post and The New York Times Book Review — also express concerns about kids being able to handle this sort of stuff. Or parents: a first objection is the use of the word ‘shit’ — so outrageous, apparently, that both reviews don’t even use the word (though leaving no doubt about it). Apparently, the United States remains so puritanical that one can’t print it in a family newspaper — much less a kid’s book. (A preview-piece in the Wall Street Journal also noted the presence of: “a four-letter expletive” and asked the editor in chief of publisher Europa Editions whether it would be changed for publication; even he said: “I should think so” at the time, though ultimately they decided against it.)
The expletive debate seems silly, but Nora Krug does have a point in her Washington Post review, that this instance of it also seems unnecessary, as there are alternatives which would not only be adequate but more fitting; indeed, here (“Open your maw / I’ve shit for your craw”) and elsewhere Ann Goldstein’s translation can have an overly harsh quality to it; given the darkness of the story, a bit of softening would not have hurt.
The early American reviews also express concern about the story’s ‘sexual overtones’, though this seems more like something American adults are more likely to read into the text (and every text …) and would go essentially unnoticed — certainly as sexual — by the kids. But you can see how some American adults might get hysterical about the first illustration, which shows Mati walking away from the half-buried doll on the still fairly crowded beach, her new cat resting on her shoulder — and the five-year-old doesn’t have a bathing suit on, her very tan-lined pale bottom fully exposed. (Presumably the public libraries that do purchase the book will be forced to put a sticker over that, and the *expletive* ?)
In these very sensitive times parents presumably want to be forewarned about this sort of content, and it’s probably a good idea for them to read the story before reading or giving it to the kids. The dark cover, and the fact that Ferrante wrote this, should be warning enough that this isn’t a light, comic read — but, everything else aside, one hopes at least that parents have enough faith in what their kids can handle to not be scared off of sharing it with them by the mention of the word ‘shit’.
Still: some caution is certainly advised: kids that are too young, very impressionable, or over-protected might not be able to handle this (not the ‘shit’, but the rest).
– M.A.Orthofer, 19 October 2016
The book, “The Beach at Night,” was originally published in Italy in 2007 as a children’s title. Europa Editions, which is publishing the book in the U.S. on Nov. 1, recommends the book for 8-to-10-year-olds.
But the U.S. audio publisher, Blackstone, has deemed the book too dark and mature for young audiences. Its version, which is read by Natalie Portman and will also be released Nov. 1, includes an expletive, which also appears in the print edition.
Blackstone said it made its decision after reviewing the text, which contains not just the word “s–t” but also includes a scene about boys trying to see girls’ underwear and urinate on their feet.
Europa says it is marketing “The Beach at Night” to “Ferrante fans” — the main character, a doll named Celina, is related to “The Story of the Lost Child,” the concluding volume of Ferrante’s phenomenally best-selling Neapolitan series. The publisher said it did not consider changing any parts of the book for a young audience.
Listen to an audio clip of “The Beach at Night
The actor Natalie Portman reads from “The Beach at Night,” by Elena Ferrante
Even without the expletive, “The Beach at Night” is rattling. Narrated by Celina, the story deals with an array of difficult issues: abandonment, jealousy, death by drowning and fire. Celina has been left on a beach at night, seemingly forgotten by her owner, Mati, whose father has just bought the girl a cat named Minù. “I’m very sad, and angry, too,” Celine says. “I don’t like this cat Minù, in fact I hate him. Even his name is ugly. I hope he has diarrhea, and vomits, and stinks so much that Mati is grossed out and gets rid of him.”
In the audio version, which runs nearly 30 minutes, Portman’s haunting narration is told amid the sound of violins, crashing waves and the crackling of a fire. “I’m afraid,” Celine says, as a character called the Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset dumps her in a pile with a plastic pony, a bottle cap, a pen and a beetle on its back, wiggling its legs. Celina, too, soon finds herself struggling to survive amid mounting threats.
Ferrante fans may well find “The Beach at Night” intriguing, and it is certainly beautifully written. Translated from the Italian by the New Yorker editor Ann Goldstein, the book is full of evocative phrasings: The sea is “an elegant lady, with a white fringe of foam” that churns in a storm, its waves “running after one another and fighting to see which is the tallest.” Celina’s tale is powerfully told and complex. She must not only save herself from the beach attendant’s rake, a fire, a storm and the roiling sea that fills her mouth, she must also salvage her voice, the words that her 5-year-old owner has taught her. It is this sense of self that is the most valuable piece of Celina, and the one thing that the beach attendant wants most, so he can sell it.
Though compelling and vivid, the book is also deeply chilling, and its vaguely sexual undertones are troubling. To steal Celina’s words, the beach attendant “extends his gnarled, dirty hands, picks me up, tries to open my mouth, shakes me,” Celina says. Then “the Big Rake appears to agree and sticks his teeth out even farther, as if to open up my chest.” Holding Celina, the attendant “clicks his tongue and from between his lips a small Hook emerges, like a raindrop. The Hook, hanging on a disgusting thread of saliva, drops down until it enters my mouth. I quickly collect all Mati’s words and hide them in my chest.”
Children’s literature is full of frightening characters — the Big Bad Wolf, Captain Hook, Cruella de Vil — but the Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset feels more sinister. He’s the stuff of real nightmares, the kind of character you might find in a news story about a lost or abused child, not a fable. In one particularly scary moment, he is shown crunching on the doll’s written name, the end of it hanging over a black mustache that looks like “lizard tails.”
“Mati, mommy, where are you?” Celine cries. “I’m your doll, don’t abandon me. You know what, Mati, if you don’t come and save me right away, if you let me burn, I’ll cry.” Not even Natalie Portman’s mellifluous voice can soften that blow.
It would be too terrible if Celina were to perish in her tormentor’s mouth or by any other means, and thankfully — spoiler alert — she does not. Instead, she gets a very hard lesson in getting past jealousy, in realizing that she is, in fact, wanted.
But young readers may be too far under the covers to hear that.
Nora Krug is a writer and editor for Book World.
The print and audio publishers of Elena Ferrante’s dark, new picture book can’t agree on whether it is appropriate for children or not.
“The Beach at Night” will be released in English on Nov. 1. Europa Editions, the author’s U.S. publisher, lists the picture book as juvenile. Blackstone Audio, which announced Tuesday that Natalie Portmanwould narrate the audiobook, added a warning that it is for adults only.
“This is an audiobook for adult Ferrante fans,” Blackstone spokeswoman Lauren Maturo wrote in an email to journalists. “Because of the mature and sometimes disturbing themes and language, we do not recommend that children listen to this story.”
Ferrante’s bestselling “My Brilliant Friend,” the first installment in her Neapolitan Quartet, presents a brutal depiction of childhood. The author’s picture book, first published in Italy in 2007, is no less disturbing. The book’s eerie illustrations are by Mara Cerri.
A doll is abandoned at the beach by her young owner. As night descends, she faces terrors including the Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset and his friend, who tries to pry the words from her mouth. The attendant sings a song that includes profanity:
Open your maw
I’ve shit for your craw
Drink up the pee
Drink it for me
Sh-h-h! Not a word
Only traps are heard
Peace will come
If we all play dumb.
Europa’s editor in chief, Michael Reynolds, told Speakeasy in March that the book was aimed for ages 6 to 10, and noted that it was no scarier than “Hansel and Gretel.” On Tuesday, he said that on the recommendation of Europa’s distributor, the book now has a no age recommendation. Europa lists the book as “psychological” under juvenile fiction.
“I think most stores will shelve it with Ferrante’s other books after its stint on tables,” Reynolds said. The picture book will be released simultaneously with the English version of “Frantumaglia,” Ferrante’s collection of interviews and letters.
Asked about Blackstone’s warning that the audiobook isn’t appropriate for children, Reynolds said: “The audiobook publisher decides their own classification.”
The theme of the lost doll is central to the Neapolitan Quartet, from the opening pages of “My Brilliant Friend” to the surprise ending of the final installment, “The Story of the Lost Child.” The picture book predates that series. It is a spinoff of Ferrante’s third novel, “The Lost Child,” which also involves a lost doll.
When “The Beach at Night” was released in Italy, Ferrante’s Italian publisher classified it as a children’s book. It didn’t make much of a splash, Reynolds said. Now he hopes it will appeal to fans of the Neapolitan Quartet, which has sold 2.5 million copies in English around the world.
Listen to an excerpt of Natalie Portman reading from “The Beach at Night”:
Lysa Williams, acquisitions editor for Blackstone, called the category question “a good one and a complex one.”
“In my early conversations with Europa I had the understanding that this title would not be sold as children’s literature due to some language and a somewhat frightening cast to the experience of the doll left behind,” Williams said in an email. “I stuck with my feelings from the first conversation, knowing that her audience is primarily adult and that this title informs ‘The Story of the Lost Child.’”
Portman – “a big fan of Elena Ferrante’s novels,” according to Blackstone – narrates the audio version in ominous and frightened tones amid sound effects evoking waves and a rake scraping the sand. The audiobook will be available for download on Nov. 1 at Downpour.com.
The pseudonymous author, who for two decades has kept her identity secret, made headlines this month when an article published by the New York Review of Books presented evidence that she is Rome-based translator Anita Raja. The controversy caused a spike in sales of the Neapolitan Quartet. For the first time this year, Ferrante appeared on the list of Nobel contenders maintained by U.K.-based betting site Ladbrokes. She was given 50/1 odds, level with Bob Dylan and short-story writer Lydia Davis.
The Beach at Night by Elena Ferrante, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein, & with illustrations by Mara Cerri (Europa)
Weird, spooky, and apparently for kids, the latest-in-English work from the justly celebrated Ferrante is told from the point of view of a doll abandoned on a beach overnight.
Elena Ferrante brings dark charm to young readers
by Sarah Begley
“Clearly, this is not your typical children’s book—and the 12 chilling illustrations by Mara Cerri only add to the feeling of uneasiness. But as Celina faces a series of nocturnal perils, the sense of dread and abandonment so pervasive in Ferrante’s mature works comes to seem just as fitting in the world of children.”
Many of Elena Ferrante’s devoted fans first fell in love with her writing in the early chapters of My Brilliant Friend, the first of her four Neapolitan novels. That book introduces the protagonist and her companion as 6-year-olds who have already seen too much of how hard life can be in their rough Naples neighborhood, dealing with violence and discouragement but still clinging to the hope of something better.
Elena Ferrante, the elusive Italian author who has become a literary sensation, is moving into the children’s market, publishing a scary new story narrated by a doll.
According to Ferrante’s UK and US publisher, an English translation of La spiaggia di notte (The Beach at Night) will be published this autumn. First published in Italian in 2007, the story is told in the voice of Celina – a doll who first appeared in Ferrante’s novel The Lost Daughter, in which she is stolen by Ferrante’s protagonist Leda.
March 21, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in parenting, Ferrante style: next year you can lull your sons and daughters to sleep with The Beach at Night, Ferrante’s new book, aimed at readers six to ten. It’s a sunny, feel-good story, suffused with light and hope: “The Beach at Night is a spinoff of The Lost Daughter, one of the author’s lesser-known early novels, in which a teacher goes on vacation in a coastal town and steals a doll from a child. InThe Beach at Night, the doll isn’t stolen. Instead, she is abandoned by her young owner to face nighttime terrors such as the Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset and his friend, the Big Rake … ‘A Beach Attendant arrives, I don’t like his eyes,’ the doll says, according to a sample translation … ‘He folds up the big beach umbrellas, the chaises. I see the hairs of his mustache moving over his lips like lizards’ tails.’ ”
The Italian author’s 38-page children’s book will be published in the U.S. in December, just in time for the holidays.
The Beach at Night is aimed at children age 6 to 10, who will certainly appreciate that the book is based on Ferrante’s novel The Lost Daughter. (Not, it should be noted, My Brilliant Friend, which also features dolls that gets lost.)
The book was actually published in Italy back in 2007, according to the Wall Street Journal, but didn’t get much attention. The English version, published by Europa Editions, will be translated by Ann Goldstein, like all Ferrante’s other books. And judging by that creepy illustration, this tale of a doll abandoned overnight by its owner will be much scarier than Toy Story.
In addition to her bestselling Neapolitan novels, the mysterious Elena Ferrante has written a book for children aged 6-10.
The Beach at Night (Europa Editions; ISBN 9781609453701; Dec. 6, 2016; it may not yet be on wholesaler sites), reports The Wall Street Journal, will hit shelves later this year,
“Star translator,” Ann Goldstein, who translated Ferrante’s blockbuster adult titles into English will translate this tale as well.
Previously published in Italy in 2007, sales were tepid, reportsWSJ, but Ferrante’s U.S. publisher, Europa, says that was before she became a household name and booksellers were “perplexed” by how to position it.
All that has changed, prompting the re-release in America.
The Beach at Night is a spinoff of an earlier Ferrante novel, The Lost Daughter, which includes a scene of an adult stealing a doll from a child during a seaside vacation. Abandoned rather than stolen in the new book, the doll is left alone to face the terrors of the night in Ferrante’s newest.
Is that a story that will work for young readers? According to the WSJ, Ferrante, known for her often dark adult novels, “doesn’t sugarcoat things for young readers.”
The British trade publication, The Bookseller offers this summary:
“Celina [the lost doll] is having a terrible night, one full of jealousy for the new kitten, Minù, feelings of abandonment and sadness, misadventures at the hands of the beach attendant, and dark dreams. But she will be happily found by Mati, her child, once the sun rises.”
Europa Editions is to publish a children’s book by Elena Ferrante titled The Beach at Night.
It will be translated by Ann Goldstein, who also translated her hit Neopolitan quartet novels, with illustrations by Italian artist Mara Cerri. Europa holds world rights excluding Australia and New Zealand.
In The Beach at Night, Ferrante returns to the tale at the centre of her adult novel The Lost Daughter, but this time the story takes the form of a children’s fable told from the point of view of the lost doll, Celina. Celina is having a terrible night, one full of jealousy for the new kitten, Minù, feelings of abandonment and sadness, misadventures at the hands of the beach attendant, and dark dreams. But she will be happily found by Mati, her child, once the sun rises.
Ferrante was recently longlisted for Man Booker International Prize 2016 for her fourth instalment of the Neopolitan Novels series, The Story of the Lost Child (Europa). The Neopolitan quartet, beginning with My Brilliant Friend and ending with The Story of the Lost Child, is also due to be adapted into an eight-part Italian language TV series.
Europa will publish The Beach at Night in November priced at £7.99.
Few grown-up (and very dark) novels have been feted with the kind of midnight release parties that awaited The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth novel in Elena Ferrante’s obsessed-over Neapolitan novel series.
Now her U.S. publisher Europa has announced on Twitter that a children’s book spinning off her earlier novel The Lost Daughter (separate and not to be confused with The Story of the Lost Child). Narrated by the doll from The Lost Daughter, the children’s book will be called The Beach At Night.
Fans of the secretive, bestselling Italian author Elena Ferrante will soon be able to share her fiction with the next generation.
Best known for her compulsively readable Neapolitan series, Ferrante also published a children’s book in Italy in 2007: La Spiaggia di Notte. It will finally be released in English on Dec. 6 this year, according to a representative from her publisher, Europa Editions.