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Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi

Beside the Sea (original 2001; edition 2010)

by Veronique Olmi, Adriana Hunter (Translator)

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1402285,666 (3.97)16
Title:Beside the Sea
Authors:Veronique Olmi
Other authors:Adriana Hunter (Translator)
Info:Peirene Press Ltd (2010), Paperback, 121 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:fiction, france, translation, early reviewers, family, mental illness, R10, released

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Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi (2001)

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English (20)  French (2)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
You know from the blurb this isn't going to be a happy ending and can make several conclusions as to what is going to happen. It is such a beautifully written story that as the end of the story approaches you wonder if actually, all your thinking is wrong.

I can't recall if we're ever given the mother's name but we get to know her two children Stan and Kevin through her eyes and also how she perceives her life to be observed by others. It is a sad story in that it is all too easy to misunderstand depression and the impact it can have on people.

At 111 fairly short pages it isn't a lengthy story but it will stay with you much longer than it takes to read. ( )
  SmithSJ01 | Jul 22, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Beside the Sea is a translation of a French book Bord de Mer, the first novel from acclaimed dramatist Véronque Olmi. First published in 2001, this novel has been translated into all major European languages. On the surface, this seems to be a sweet story about a mother taking her children on a trip to the seaside. However, digging a little deeper reveals a darker undercurrent. This is no joyful jaunt to sun, surf and sand. Instead, we discover a deeply disturbed mother, already on the edge, afraid for the life of poverty and exclusion that she fears her boys are destined to lead. Determined to give them at least one happy memory, she takes them on a holiday that she cannot afford and has not properly planned.

We are introduced to the two little boys, Stan and Kevin, through the eyes of their mother allowing us to develop a proxy parental concern for them. The story is told from within their mother’s mind but she remains nameless, allowing us to feel empathy for her while still keeping her at arms distance.

Seeing the experiences of this family through the eyes of the boys gives a sense of wonder and delight, but the covering veil of the mother’s thoughts and emotions and the constant presence of rain gives the story a continual sense of darkness that leads to a disharmony – a sense that something is not quite right.

As a mother who has experienced the depths of depression, I can totally relate to this mother’s concerns and despair when she considers sending her boys out into this dark and dreary world. But the very fact that I am lucky enough to be on the road to recovery makes the climax of this book all the more tragic. There, but for the grace of the Gods go I.

At only 111 pages, Beside the Sea is quite short, but don’t let that fool you into believing that it is a light read. It is not. This story will have you delving into the deepest, darkest parts of your soul and some may not like what they find.

Overall, this is a superbly written book with a small but well-developed cast. The author’s theatrical influence can definitely be felt in the vividly described scenery and clear transition between scenes.

Despite the quality of the writing, Beside the Sea is not for everyone. Delving into the dark side of motherhood, coupled with a deeply disturbing climax, could be upsetting to many readers, particularly parents. For those brave enough to read this book, I highly recommend picking up a copy. It is very much worth it. ( )
1 vote seldombites | Mar 29, 2011 |
I think I probably knew this was the wrong book to take on a seaside holiday to France before I started, even though it, kind of, features a French seaside holiday. Ours was a much happier holiday I'm pleased to say. This was sad. ( )
  nocto | Dec 10, 2010 |
When I started this book, I thought I knew how it would end. Just this feeling I had -- that and the back-of-the-book blurb which really went a bit too far I think. I was right about the ending.

This was beautifully written, with excellent use of setting and description. I felt like I was there, like I was inside that poor troubled woman's head. I felt deeply her love and fear for her children, and I think the author did a good job explaining what drives a person to do something like this protagonist did. I can't recommend the book wholeheartedly, though -- it is seriously NOT for the faint of heart and possibly not for ANY mothers of young children. It is the stuff of dreams and nightmares. But I applaud the effort. To write something like this must have required a great deal of courage. ( )
  meggyweg | Jul 24, 2010 |
From the opening sentence, I knew there was something different about this book: We took the bus, the last bus of the evening, so no one would see us. I was instantly intrigued and wary. Why would a mother and her two young sons want to leave home unnoticed? The bus takes them to a seaside town, to fulfill the mother's wish that her boys see the ocean. The nameless mother provides the narrative, and the more I lived inside her head, the greater my fear and trepidation. It's clear she loves her sons, and wants to preserve their childhood as long as possible:
he jumps onto my bed and asks me to give him a farty kiss, that's a big kiss on his tummy which makes a lot of noise and it makes him laugh so much you wouldn't believe it, it's like he's laughing to hear himself laugh, that he's making the most of that laughter, having fun with it, and I know that a laugh like that runs away the minute you grow up. (p. 32)

But little by little, the story reveals a troubled soul. The holiday is stressful in the way holidays with young children can be. The weather is horrible, and she must deal with two little boys, cooped up in a sixth-floor hotel room accessible only by stairs. But she is also overcome by anxiety and paranoia. Having scraped together all the spare change in the house to spend on treats, she is convinced local merchants are looking down on her for paying with coins instead of notes. Eventually her anxiety gets the better of her, and she escapes into sleep, leaving the boys to fend for themselves in the hotel room:
I left everything, left that town and myself along with it: my body was weightless, painless, I sank into something soft and I shed my fear and anger, and my shame too. I went to a world where there's a place kept for me. Not asleep and not awake, I'm a feather. Not asleep and not awake, but I come undone, I sprawl out look a cotton reel unwinding. Why did I topple over the edge then? Why did I start to dream? (p. 59)

The young family's loneliness and desperation was so sad, and I was completely immersed in the mother's unraveling. But I still gasped out loud when the novella reached its inevitable climax. This is a beautifully written story, but one that will haunt me for quite some time. ( )
9 vote lauralkeet | Jun 25, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
This is a mesmerising portrait of a frayed and twisted mind...When you think of the rather more unadventurous stuff that does well over here and compare it with Beside the Sea, you despair.

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Veronique Olmiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hunter, AdrianaTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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We took the bus, the last bus of the evening, so no one would see us.
It's lost. Fallen into a hole. You struggle to live as best you can but soon the whole lot disappears. We get up in the morning, but that morning doesn't actually exist any more than the night before which everyone's already forgotten. We're all walking on the edge of a precipice, I've known that for a long time. One step forward, one step in the void. Over and over again. Going where? No one knows. No one gives a stuff.
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A single mother takes her two sons on a trip to the seaside. They stay in a hotel, drink hot chocolate and go to the funfair. She wants to protect them from a cold and uncomprehending world. She knows that it will be the last trip for her boys.

A haunting and thought-provoking story about how a mother's love for her children can be more dangerous than the dark world she is seeking to keep at bay.

The French literary bestseller, first published in 2001, has been translated into all major European languages -- now for the first time in English.
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A single mother takes her two young sons on a trip to the seaside. She wants to protect them from a cold and uncomprehending world. Despite a very sad end, the book stands as a tour de force that reveals the thin line between love and violence.

(summary from another edition)

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