Review – Bord De Mer (Beside the Sea) by Veronique Olmi

It’s been so long since I’ve read anything modern in French Literature but having seen Jackie from Farmlane Books’ wonderful review of the English translation of this from Peirene Press, I decided to give it a go.  Admittedly, one can lose a lot in translation, in my case not due to bad translation but rustiness in the language, but this prose is so simple yet so powerful and stark it did not matter that it wasn’t in my mother tongue.

Midweek, during term time, a single mother decides to take her two young boys, Kevin and Stanley, on a trip to the seaside.  Surely, this, their first vacation, should be a time of excitement, of joy….but something isn’t right – they leave in the middle of the night, anxious that noone should see their departure, the weather is dismal as is their hotel room with one bed hardly large enough to hold them all, it’s hard to distinguish night from day in this dreary seaside town whose inhabitants aren’t particularly welcoming to their visitors.  Even the sea is in foul, threatening form in this muddy resort much to the children’s dismay.  Their budget is limited to the contents of a tea caddy,  saved up loose change which seems to irritate the already hostile locals.  An excursion like this isn’t going to make the Show and Tell session at Primary school on Monday, oh no, it is evident that disaster is imminent and it is a certain sign of the author’s skill that such foreknowledge doesn’t reduce the poignancy and sheer emotional power of this desperate tale.

This is a short but potent read (121 pages) - it’s dramatic but restrained, one which will stay with me for a very long time.  We can only guess what dreadful circumstances have influenced the actions of this unnamed mother, perhaps depression, perhaps an abusive relationship but she is in desperate need of help while being desperately in love with her sons.  A must read…

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6 Comments

  1. Stujallen says:

    wow well done reading the french version ,I ve just read the translation and like you it will stay with me for a long time ,all the best stu

  2. admin says:

    I’m really tempted to read the English translation to compare experiences, Stu, but fear I might be too caught up in comparing and contrasting!

  3. Iris says:

    I have the English translation waiting to be read. I admire you for reading this in French. Maybe, if I love it like everyone else seems to do, this could be my book to re-learn French with.

  4. admin says:

    Iris, it’s done in very simple language given that the narrator is quite stunted both emotionally and intellectually whether that be due to medication or otherwise is anyone’s guess. It’s a disturbing book but not in a gory way which suits me fine. Did you study French at school/uni? If you ever read L’Etranger by Camus, I would find this style similar in its starkness and lack of pretentiousness. Bonne chance! :-)

  5. It is great to see that you read the original and found it just as powerful. I would love you to read the English and compare the two, but it does sound as though the translation has captured the original.

  6. admin says:

    Jackie, I’m on the look out for it at the moment, trying to source from our library! I can’t resist the temptation as I saw a review somewhere which complained about the translation saying the voice of the mother was changed – intriguing…

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