Véronique Olmi · women in translation month

Beside the Sea

I am not sure where to begin or what to actually say. I’m afraid this will be a short entry despite all the thoughts the book provoked and inspired. Or maybe precisely because of that.

Days after, the mud and the gray skies are with me, and I am still thinking about the three of them, about her in particular – how difficult the life must be when you constantly have to fight your own destructive, straying thoughts, how endlessly exhausting…

Susan Sontag’s words come to mind and I had to search for the quote:

A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world.

The thought does not belong only to her, of course. Many said and thought the same, and I myself am of a strong opinion that literature is a first-hand experience. Beside the Sea is a perfect example.

Yes, Olmi’s writing is extraordinary – the mother is real, the boys are real, it is all happening, it’s devastating and hopeless. The mother’s voice is masterfully brought, and Stan, though presented through the first-person narrator, from his mother’s point of view, feels independent of it. So much is managed in hints only. The weather and colors unmistakably testify of a kind of life this woman has been living, and there’s that petrifying strength of the last paragraph…

Still, all the mastery aside (a part of me opposes this), it is a book that stands out most for its subject, for the insight it gives into a state of mind that is hard to apprehend.

The more I think about this little jewel the more I appreciate it.