- Mass Market Paperback: 121 pages
- Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd (13 Jan. 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0956284027
- ISBN-13: 978-0956284020
- Product Dimensions: 12.3 x 1 x 19.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 371,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Beside the Sea Mass Market Paperback – 13 Jan 2010
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"This story tears your heart apart ... Véronique Olmi, thank you for this marvelous novel." --Journal du Dimanche
"A short novel full of wisdom and sadness. If you forget this book, you haven't read it."
"The most intense female narrative I've come across
in years. A powerful tale of human frailty, like
Beckett's Not I, it unlocks you from the inside."
--Lisa Dwan, actress
This is a mesmerising portrait ... it should be read. --Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
With the skill of a thriller writer, the mother-narrator propels you forward and as, the awful climax approaches, compels you to profoundly question your own life and relationships.
--Rosie Goldsmith, BBC
"This short novel has the trajectory of a classic tragedy with its taut time-span and sense of inevitability ... The closing pages are heart-stopping and heartbreaking, yet one finishes this sad tale not depressed but uplifted by its ability to enlarge the reader's sympathies."
--Chris Schuler, The Independent
"prose ... filled with sad poetic sense and blunt, bleak realities, compellingly conveyed in Hunter's colloquial English. "
From the Publisher
Why Peirene chose to publish this book:
"This is the most impressive novel about the mother and child relationship I have read. Véronique Olmi handles an aspect of motherhood that we all too often deny. She depicts a woman's fear of releasing her children into the world. The simple first person narrative achieves an extraordinary level of poetry and inner truth." Meike Ziervogel (publisher)
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If, like me, you find the opening ten minutes of Casualty almost impossible to watch without wanting to intervene to stop the inevitable accidents, or have to put your hands over your eyes at CCTV footage of someone recklessly running across a railway line or edging along the outside of a motorway bridge, you will find Beside The Sea a deeply unsettling and stressful read. It becomes almost immediately apparent that the narrator is at best inadvertently neglectful of her children and at worst, severely unstable, and it's almost impossible to read her story without wanting to protect the children from her; at the same time, it's also impossible not feel deeply sorry for her.
Endless anxiety and cruelly severe depression torture her daily and, by association, her sons. Aged nine and five, they're left standing outside the school gates until 6pm, dressed in ill-fitting clothes and frequently unfed; their mother's self-confessed inability to stick to any kind of routine means they fend for themselves while she sleeps for whole days at a time. Stan, the elder boy, frequently finds himself cast in the role of carer for his mother and his little brother as the family struggle desperately to cope. And yet, despite her erratic parenting, despite her infuriating, disturbing state of denial about certain aspects of her neglect, it's obvious the narrator loves her children, wants something better for them, wants to provide for them - and understands them, too. In fact, her love for the children is the one constant in her life, and strangely, it's this that makes the book all the more disturbing as the story comes to an end.
We're told very little about the narrator's past, except that the children have different fathers and the younger boy's doesn't know his son exists, yet tiny hints (a reference to her missing front teeth; a passing comment that implies she has lived with someone who constantly belittled her) suggest that she may have been a victim of domestic abuse. Is this what has tipped a vulnerable woman over the edge? What was she like before she had her children? Those questions are simply never answered, and I think that perhaps the book is all the better for that: while the narrator's problems are clearly a long way beyond those of most mothers, every parent has moments like hers. Every parent doubts their ability to care for their child; every parent feels guilty, inadequate, over-defensive in the face of other's judgements. What makes this narrative so powerful is knowing this, knowing that even the best of parents can find themselves at the precipice of becoming unable to cope, and wondering how easy it might be to slide over the edge.
This short read is expertly translated by Adriana Hunter, retaining a vivid narrative voice for the protagonist, as fractured and dislocated as her state of mind. In fact I absolutely felt like I was reading the words of a real person rather than a fictional character, and in many ways, this was one of the things that made Beside The Sea a tough read. I have no children, and I'm not sure I could have got through this book if I did. In short, brilliant but devastating.
The writing is superbly natural throughout, with the two boys given distinct personalities. Stan, the elder boy is around nine - he is watchful, careful with his mother, but there is a moment on the beach where, looking back, one senses his estrangement, when something of his mother's desperation is given expression by this child. Kevin is the needy one, the baby, five or six years-old, forced, perhaps to behave badly, or younger than he is, in order to gain attention.
The mother has very little money with her, and that in small denominations, which causes her problems with a café proprietor. The mood of the novel is set by the constant rain, the muddy beach, the hot greasy chips, which are all she can afford for the children to eat. She never eats herself, however, spending everything on the boys, the last of their meagre collection of coins on rides at the funfair, and then they walk back to their hotel. There is a final scene. This is one of the darkest and most devastating books I have ever read.
She has decided to blow all the money she can lay her hands on - which isn't much - on a trip to the sea-side for herself and the boys. They have never seen the sea and she wants to give them one last glimpse of it. She envisages a blue sky, sand, blue water, but it's winter and it's raining.
What makes the book so brilliant is the way the young mother's state of mind is conveyed to the reader - the occasional dazzle of back-story glimpsed between phrases - the blink of a hidden meaning behind a particular word. What is also fascinating is the way she observes the world watching her - judging her - a million light years away from where she actually is.
This is a book about a social tragedy that could be happening in the next street - on the next bus you take - in a cafe you slip into for an aperitivo. You won't look at people in the same way again.
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