Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 1, 2010

Beside the Sea (2001), by Veronique Olmi, translated by Adriana Hunter

Just a novella, only 111 pages long, but Beside the Sea took an eternity to read because by page 15 I knew what was going to happen, and I didn’t want it to.

An un-named narrator speaks in an incoherent babble, prattling on about irrelevant things as the desperate do when they don’t want others to know what’s really on their minds. Her anxiety is palpable.  She’s set out on a journey to the seaside with her two children, but it’s not a pleasure trip.  Her older son is suspicious, as well he might be, because she can’t help but alert the reader to her intentions.  She’s using up the last of her pitiful store of money, because nothing matters any more.

We can tell that she’s been letting the kids down.  She’s not much good at carrying things since she broke her collar bone, she’s not been there when they get up in the morning to go to school and she’s been getting day and night confused..  Now she’s forgotten the little one’s ‘noonoo’ (some kind of comforter), she’s disorientated and she’s not confident about finding her way.  The trip’s a big disappointment too: the weather’s miserable, everything is dark, the hotel is cramped and dingy.

And she hasn’t taken her medicine.


The book is beautifully presented with a smart cover but the pages fell apart as I read it.  As a librarian, I find this really annoying because we all have better things to do than mend books after just one reading.

Dove Grey Reader brings us the backstory on the publishing house that ventured into translation with this book; Andrew Blackman pondered the role of bleak books in his reading life; The Guardian ruins it with a spoiler in the very first paragraph while The Independent is a little more circumspect.

Author: Veronique Olmi
Title: Beside the Sea
Translated from the French by: Adriana Hunter
Publisher: Peirene Press, 2010
ISBN: 9780956284020
Source: Review copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program


  1. I read this one too – and have tried to promote Peirene Press – an excellent venture, but its disappointing to read your copy fell apart. I have made this my choice for the Bloggers Book of the Month choice at The Big Green Bookshop in London.


    • I was really surprised, Tom. The book feels beautiful in your hand, with a smooth, silky texture, and the soft muted colour scheme is just perfect. But (needless to say, I hope) I took the usual care in reading and the pages simply parted company with the binding. I like to think that I was just unlucky, because I think the concept of publishing in translation is an important one. Here in Melbourne we have Text Publishing who (in addition to publishing some excellent local authors) are bringing us authors in translation, and I have bought quite a few Nobel winners from them. Lisa


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