Saturday, 16 March 2013

Beside the Sea: Veronique Olmi - Peirene Press

 This isn't a book to read if you're depressed, but it's a book you should read.  I found it disturbing and very moving.  It was apparently a 'controversial' best-seller in France.  Narrated in the first person, vernacular, it's the story of a young, single mother, who is struggling to cope  - with her two little boys, with her own mental health, social workers, teachers, and inadequate money.  We are totally inside her world and her head.  It makes gut-wrenching reading.

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.

 Beside the Sea, Veronique Olmi
Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter
Peirene Press

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