The Guardian

Elena Ferrante takes on a new identity – as a children’s author

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.

Elena Ferrante’s children’s book La Spiaggia di notte, which will be translated into English.
Elena Ferrante’s children’s book La Spiaggia di notte, which will be translated into English. Photograph: Edizioni E/O

In this incarnation, Celina is left behind by a five-year-old girl called Mati and spends an “endless night on the beach”. There she finds herself at the mercy of a beach attendant and his friend, the Big Rake, who terrorise discarded objects, gathering them together to make a big fire.

“Mati is a five-year-old girl who talks a lot, especially with me,” the story begins. “I am her doll. Her father has only just arrived. He comes to the seaside every weekend and has brought her a black and white cat as a present. So up until five minutes ago Mati was playing with me and now she’s playing with the cat, which she’s called Minù. I’m sitting on the sand, in the sun, and I don’t know what to do.”

According to Europa Editions’ Daniela Petracco, Celina’s adventures on the beach are aimed at children aged between six and 10. It’s “a little creepy,” Petracco said, “but, you know, it’s Ferrante. It was never going to be a sunny story.” Younger readers will be reassured to know that – unlike in The Lost Daughter, where the narrator finds the doll and never returns it – at the end of La spiaggia di notte “all is well”.

The story continues a “recurring theme” in Ferrante’s work, Petracco added, with dolls also at the centre of an important scene early in her bestselling Neapolitan quartet. In the first volume, My Brilliant Friend, Ferrante describes how the two girls, Lila and Elena, throw each other’s dolls into the cellar of an apartment owned by “the ogre of fairy tales”, Don Achille. When they go to retrieve them, Lila does “something unexpected”.

She stopped to wait for me, and when I reached her she gave me her hand. This gesture changed everything between us forever.

A collection of Ferrante’s writings, Frantumaglia, is also due in November, addressing subjects including her decision to remain anonymous. Earlier this month, Marcella Marmo was the latest writer forced to deny she was the bestselling author, after a professor at the University of Pisa claimed he had identified Ferrante from consulting university yearbooks.

“Notoriety has no upside. It’s never pleasant. Thank you to everyone who thought that I could be a happy bestseller writer, but as I’ve already tried in vain to say in recent days, I am not Elena Ferrante,” Marmo told Slate. “Despite having left no possibility for doubt, the story that I am behind Ferrante’s identity continues to circulate. I politely ask the press to put away the mystery stories and leave me to my work in history.”

Explaining her decision to keep her identity hidden to her publishers in 1991, Ferrante wrote that she believed books, “once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t.”