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
Source: Review copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program