Peirene Press have now been publishing their short but powerful translated fiction for five years, and to mark this milestone Stu at WinstonsDad's Blog suggested a re-read of the back catalogue to see if our views have changed at all.
So, beginning at the beginning, I started with Peirene's very first book, Veronique Olmi's Beside the Sea, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter. A single mother is taking her two boys on a trip to the seaside - a fun time for all is what you'd expect, with paddling, building sandcastles, eating ice creams and fish and chips, but reality doesn't quite live up to the dream; the town is muddy, the hotel dingy, the weather blustery and wet, the sea rough. But this oppressive 'exterior' atmosphere echoes a more threatening darkness that's taken hold of the mother's thoughts and feelings - her love for her children has become twisted and paranoid.
Beside the Sea is an absolutely devastating read - more so, if possible, this second time. On first reading it, I felt like someone watching an accident unfold - I could see the various elements moving towards a point where disaster would become inevitable, but still hoped that somehow it would be averted. Second time through, I knew there was no chance of a happy ending. The author takes the reader inside the troubled mind of this young, unnamed mother, explores her love and fears for her boys, hints at the various problems she's had, with talk of social workers who have obviously tried to help but failed to grasp the enormity of her problems. It's obvious that the boys, although only half-brothers, feel a great love for each other, are prepared to stand together against the world and would probably have been able to cope if taken away from their mother and into care - which makes the ending even more tragic.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press
Genre - Adult Literary Fiction