Elena Ferrante’s children’s book The Beach at Night has magic, danger, and adventure, with scary episodes and somewhat raunchy language not usually found in a children’s book. Never fear, the story does have a happy ending. Best known for her anonymity and her Neopolitan novel series, Ferrante weaves a simple but dark story, reminiscent of the original Grimm fairy tales, about a doll left behind at the beach.
When her father presents the little girl with a cat named Minu, the little doll finds herself abandoned and forgotten. She is tortured by a mean beach attendant and his rake as they scavenge the night beach for bits of treasure left behind. Although the main villain is the snarly Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset, the Rake, Fire, and Waves from the Ocean are personified and join in, as the poor doll tries to hang on.
Although the book is listed for children, the illustrations reminded me of Tim Burton caricatures – whimsically scary. The subtexts of mother-daughter relationships, as well as the horrors of a deserted beach and the stealing of words out one’s mouth, seem targeted more for an adult audience. Adults, especially fans of Ferrante will enjoy the book, but beware – read it yourself first to decide if you want to share it with your young ones.