What an extraordinarily powerful book this is. From Peirene Press comes Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi (translated by Adriana Hunter), short, intense and quite unlike anything I've read before. Read it at a sitting, as I did, for it will hold your attention and it demands that level of concentration - it is a monologue, spoken almost as if in a single breath, its style conversational, but its voice barely concealing anguish.
Unfolding over the course of twenty four hours, it's the story of a woman who takes her two young sons on a trip to the seaside, but there's nothing bright and happy about their outing. Yes, they travel by bus which is a novelty in itself, stay in a hotel, go to the beach, drink hot chocolate in a café and later visit a funfair, but what happens is so far removed from the buckets and spades and ice cream that we expect a day like that to feature, that - as becomes increasingly and agonisingly clear - we can only wait for the awful and inevitable outcome.
A seaside resort out of season can have a particular bleakness to it, and this one does; rain-lashed - relentlessly, chill, shabby and stale. There are no sun-warmed smiles, no friendly faces to lighten the mood, instead the mother meets only hostility or indifference, and her boys, self-reliant from necessity, accept the meagreness of their experience and trust their mother to make things alright.
Fear and isolation, love, loneliness and lack, all these govern the woman's actions and lead to the book's dreadful conclusion. This is motherhood turned in on itself, and it's raw and painfully plausible, horribly real; as such this is not an easy book to read, but please don't let that stop you.