Book Review: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi

The Blurb:

“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. This is 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. Veronique Olmi handles an aspect of motherhood 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 extraordianry level of poetry and inner truth. “



What I thought:

What could be more idyllic than a young mum taking her two children to the seaside for the first time? Going on a long bus journey, staying in a hotel, drinking hot chocolates in the cafe and visiting the fun fair?

Sadly, this book not only doesn’t have a happy ending but it doesn’t have a happy beginning or middle either: The narrator in this book is a single mum who is severely depressed and unable to cope with her two young sons, 9 year old Stan and 5 year old Kevin. They climb on board a bus one night with promises of sea and sand and clean hotels sheets fresh in their mind, but the reality is far from their combined dream. The dark and murky weather sets the tone perfectly for this book and hints at what it to come.

When considering how to sum this book up I tried to reflect on the emotions I felt while reading it, and while it is ultimately a terribly sad story it also is a tale of real love and bonds and complete trust in another person. The narration by the mother is sublime and the sparse use of punctuation means that we tumble through the book with her not really knowing where we’re going but knowing that what’s going on inside her head is not a place we want to be.

“‘In the morning I don’t have the strength to get up to go to school, it’s Stan who takes Kevin, and I think the littl’un likes it. With Stan I’m never late, he told me once. Schools open too early. Ten o’clock would be good. I can’t do anything before ten o’clock. I don’t sleep well at night. It’s the worrying. I couldn’t tell you what about. It’s like something’s been lowered onto me… like someone sitting on me, that’s it. No one even notices I’m here. They sit down on me like sitting on a bench. I’d like to get up, stand up, thrash and scream. Nothing doing. They keep on sitting there. How can anyone understand that?’ “


For anyone who has ever suffered with depression, this will resonate loudly. There is no doubt about this mothers love for her children, or theirs for her. They are her world, but at the same time she is accutely aware of the not-good-enough job she is doing of bringing them up. She is ashamed that they have never been to the seaside before, ashamed that she had to pay with small change in the cafe and humiliated when she is looked down upon for doing so.

This book took a grip on me and did not let go. I got a sense while reading it that all would not end well but despite knowing (or feeling this) I still found myself compelled to keep reading through to the shocking end.

A beautifully written book (translation by Adriana Hunter) and one that will take a while to shake off.

(Source: This book was sent to me for review by Peirene Press)


12 thoughts on “Book Review: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi

  1. Great review, Boof. I’ve seen reviews of this book before, but now I really want to read it! That is, when I don’t need an uplifting book, of course. If you think it’s beautifully written, then it must have been beautifully translated, too.

    Does it say whether the author did go through something herself?

    Is it originally French? Just wondering.


  2. I was initally reluctant to read this because I suspected what it was going to be about. But I’m really glad I did because it is such a powerful book, even though it’s so slim. And it took me weeks before I could shake it off either. A bold and courageous novel.


  3. I’m sure I’ve read other reviews of this book, but yours is the first one that I’ve really read in full and been moved by. I think I felt that not being a mother myself, I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate or relate to this novel, but your review has given me pause and made me think I would get something from it. I will certainly keep it in mind!


  4. Great review Boof. I thought this was an incredible book and it still haunts me now, many, many months after closing the final page. I dont think there is much more I can add to your post in a comment other than that really. Its just an incredible read.


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