From the opening pages of Beside the Sea, it’s clear that something is very wrong. A young, single mum is taking her two boys on their first ever holiday to a small seaside town. As they ride the bus she reminisces on the life they are escaping, and hopes this trip will finally bring them some joy. Her manic tone might be taken for excitement, but for the small cracks of darkness that slip out. Nostalgia gives way to anxiety and paranoia. Panic attacks and hallucinations set in. We, too, begin to doubt. What do we make of the story she is telling?
Beside the Sea is the single most devastating depiction of a life in free fall that I’ve ever read. And yet, despite its horrors, it is a work of immense humanity and compassion. It is also a raging, shaking fist at the systems that routinely fail those forced to the margins; be they structures that reinforce and punish poverty, or mental health services pushed to the point of collapse. By its end, the tragedy of this mother and her boys seems inevitable. If only anyone had cared enough to see. A heart-shattering masterpiece.
Beside The Sea by Véronique Olmi (Tr. Adriana Hunter)
Peirene Press, 2010
Why does your review make me want to run right out and buy this book? 😭