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.
Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi, translated into English by Adriana Hunter, is published in Great Britain by Peirene Press Ltd, 17 Cherverton Road, London N19 3BB, http://www.peirenepress.com (2010). ISBN: 978-0-9562840-2-0. Originally published in French as Bord de Mer in 2001.
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