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Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi
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Beside the Sea (original 2001; edition 2010)

by Veronique Olmi, Adriana Hunter (Translator)

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1442383,153 (4)17
Member:crimson-tide
Title:Beside the Sea
Authors:Veronique Olmi
Other authors:Adriana Hunter (Translator)
Info:Peirene Press Ltd (2010), Paperback, 121 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:****
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)
First published in France as Bord de Mer in 2001 – translated from French by Adriana Hunter.

If you are at all active on booky social media – then I imagine you are likely to be aware of Peirenne Press, their stylishly designed paperbacks of European literature, with subscriptions available.

I think I must be pretty late to the Peirenne Press party, with so many people reading them – and so many excellent reviews of Peirenne novels, it really was only a matter of time I suppose before I tried one. I was in Waterstone’s buying a gift and doing some browsing, when my eye fell upon Beside the Sea, and I remembered it as a book I had seen reviewed and talked about. It was only after I got it home I realised I had accidently bought the very first Peirenne book. If you hop on over the Peirenne website you will see that their books (all slim works of translated European literature) are divided up into 3 book series’. Beside the Sea is the first book in the Female Voice Series (naturally each novel also stands alone). A naughty little demon book collector in me began to whisper bad things as I browsed the website more fully – but I am attempting to ignore it.

Beside the Sea, is a very difficult book to review. Once read it becomes unforgettable, although I suspect most readers, will see exactly where they are headed from the first page, as I did. The reader is conscious of a creeping dread of inevitability as the story of a mother and her two young sons gets underway. Be warned, this is a harrowing narrative, and not one to be read if you are already feeling down, but there is real artistry I think in the way Olmi draws us into the mind of her narrator. I also suspect that it will be a book that the reader gains more from with subsequent reads.

“We took the bus, the last bus of the evening, so no one would see us. The boys had their tea before we left, I noticed they didn’t finish the jar of jam and I thought of that jam left there for nothing, it was a shame, but I’d taught them not to waste stuff and to think of the next day”

A single mother takes her two young sons Stan aged nine and Kevin; five, on a trip to the seaside. She wants it to be perfect, the sun to shine, and the boys to experience the simple pleasure of the beach. She crams their clothes into bags and the family board a bus. When they arrive at their destination it is raining. The hotel is a drab, mean place, their room on the sixth floor is dominated by a bed which the door opens right into, it is certainly not like the hotels seen on television.

Narrated by the mother, in a stream of consciousness (not a style I always like, but it is absolutely perfect here), we are gradually made aware that she is suffering from some unspecified mental illness, for which she is supposed to be taking medication. Her world is a place of anxieties; she is desperate to protect her beloved sons from the cold harshness of the world. The realities of home for her include the watchfulness of social workers, a clinic and lone parenthood, the vague feeling she is not as other mothers, who all know how to do things just right. There is an intensity to the narration; it becomes hard to lay the book aside, despite, or maybe because of the feeling of claustrophobic unease.

The day after their arrival, Stan and Kevin’s mother shows them the sea, the waves are huge and threatening, it is still raining, and they retreat to a café and drink hot chocolate paying with a large pile of small coins. Later there is a visit to a fun fair. Throughout, the mother watches her boys, reflecting on their already established personalities, those little ways that no doubt, a mother knows best of all.

“I stopped on the sea wall, my two kids holding my hands, I wondered how to do it, how to say hello to the sea. It was making a hellish noise, really angry, and the children cowered. I stayed there, not moving a muscle, watching it…I’d been waiting for it such a long time!”

This little novel does make for quite uncomfortable reading, and in a way I’m a little surprised it was chosen as the first title for Peirene, it was certainly a brave choice. I have no doubt I will be reading more from Peirene, though (despite my whoops moment the other day) I really am not supposed to be buying books just at the moment. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Jan 25, 2015 |
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 |
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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For Douchka
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We took the bus, the last bus of the evening, so no one would see us.
Quotations
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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Book description
From the back cover:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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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