Book Review: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi

Title: Beside the Sea
Author: Veronique Olmi
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 9780956284020
Price: £8.99
Source: Publisher
Genre: Translated Work, French Fiction, Novella, Literary Fiction
PP: 111 Pages
Rating: 5/5

What would drive a mother to kill her own children? Why would she do that? Which mother ever does that? What must be the situation or circumstance that propelled such behaviour? I had these questions raging in my mind, when I read about 3 weeks ago in the local newspaper, that a woman had flung her 2 children – aged 6 and 11 years old and then took the path of suicide herself. She could not handle the stress at home and her husband wasn’t supportive of her choices either. I stared at her picture for the longest time and then it struck me that I studied with her. She was almost my classmate. We knew each other. I had once upon a time laughed with her. I could not get her out of my head for the longest time and she still lingers there somehow.

The reason I mentioned all of this is when I started reading, “Beside the Sea”, my thoughts time and again centred on her and her children. The book is about a nameless mother and her two children Stan and Kevin and their trip beside the sea. The story is set in a nameless town – grey and dark and full of rain and mud. There is no mention of any colour in the entire book and may be that is how it is supposed to be, given the plot and the atmosphere. Well the story hinges on the two day trip and aftermath. I had to give the spoiler away since I had to mention what I was going through and what I had experienced.

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 give the story a continual sense of darkness that leads to a disharmony – a sense that something is not quite right.

My head was empty when I finished reading this book. I don’t know why. I know and yet the book shook me in several ways, ways I did not think it was capable of. The book takes you by surprise (or may be by shock?) and manages to make you think long after you have finished reading the book. I thought the translation was perfect considering it was originally written in French by Veronique Olmi. The writing is perfect, neither too less and nor too much – anyway that’s how a novella should be written, isn’t it? I did not want to know more at the end of it. I was satisfied. I have had a roller-coaster of an emotional ride while reading this beautiful work. So must you.  

You can purchase the book here on Flipkart

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