Some books you need to write about quite some time after you have read them to let the settle with you and other times a book hits you so strongly that you want to write about it the instant that you have finished it. I am doing the latter with ‘Beside the Sea’ by Veronique Olmi whilst the emotions which it has so strongly brought out of me are still fresh.
I can’t really start my bookish thoughts on ‘Beside the Sea’ without stating that it is one of the most intense reads that I have had the fortune (though maybe that’s not quite the right word) of reading recently. It starts as the simple tale of a single mother taking her children on a holiday to see the sea for the first time only as the book develops much darker undertones start to slowly seep out of the narrative and you realise this isn’t going to be quite the picturesque read that you thought it might be.
To give away very much about this books storyline would be to spoil this book for the reader. I will try not to let the cat out of the bag when I describe what an amazing tension Olmi creates in this novel through the narration. The nameless young mother describes to the reader her trip away and as the tale goes on from the coach ride to hotel arrival, café treats to first sightings of the sea you are given small glimpses that something isn’t quite right. Health centres, social workers, Sundays in bed all day and medication start to be mentioned and the further you read on the more you get that gut feeling all is not well and something darker is coming.
“I like songs.They say things I can’t seem to say. If I didn’t have these rotten teeth I’d sing alot more, a lot more often, I’d sing my boys to sleep in the evenings, tales of sailors and magical beds, but there you are, we can’t be good at everything, we can’t know how to do everything, all of it, that’s what I tell the social worker till I’m blue in the face.”
One of the quotes on the books matching bookmark mentions that though not a thriller this book does read as one and that’s a very true statement. I can’t think of many books where the atmosphere and intensity of the novel come off the page so instantly and leave you to read on even if you aren’t sure you want to. I shall say no more but if you have read the book email me as I am desperate to have a chat with someone else who has finished it.
I know there are some people out there who think that if you don’t have children then you can’t relate to tales about mother’s (or father’s) feelings for their child or children. I think that’s a load of rubbish, I believe that a wonderful author can take you absolutely anywhere, into any mind or situation, that’s the wonder of books. Olmi is just such a writer who put me into the mind of a mother thinking of her and her children’s lives and left me rather an emotional wreck and not any books can leave me almost feeling physically winded.
A compelling book from an author whose entire back catalogue of work I hope will get translated. I would be the first in the queue to read anything of hers that comes out in English in the future, or I will just have to learn fluent French if not, that’s how good this is. It has also made me very keen to see what Peirene Press (a new independent and rather lovely publisher who kindly sent me this) has coming out in the future. This is a Savidge Reads must read book.
P.S I did mean to write more about how this was a wondrous start to ‘Lost in Translation’ and about Peirene Press, but the book has left me so stunned and slightly shaken that I need to go and sit and just be with people and noise for a bit before I can say anymore.