There is More to Véronique Olmi Than “Beside the Sea” or Un si bel avenir (Such a beautiful future)

Un si bel avenir

Lucky Pereine Press decided to publish Véronique Olmi’s prize-winning novel Bord the Mer – Beside the Sea or she may still be waiting for an English translation. I’ve read the book when it came out in France in 2001. It’s an excellent but bleak account of a highly depressed mother.

Olmi has written several novels and theater plays. The one that interested me the most was Un si bel avenir which you could translate by Such a beautiful future. Set in the theater world, it tells the story of two women who meet at a time when their lives start to unravel. Elizabeth is an actress, married with two little girls. Her husband is a failed stage director. Clara is a radio journalist who is in a relationship with Boris, an actor as well. The women first meet at the premiere of one of Pascal’s plays which is a total failure. They meet again by coincidence, just after having found out that their marriages and relationships are about to end.

The friendship she describes is very rare in it’s intensity and loyalty. Two people meet when they need someone the most and open up in a way unknown to both of them. Family secrets, disappointments, dreams and fears are shared with great trust and openness.

Some of the scenes in this novel are incredibly  beautiful, some even in their absurdity like when Elizabeth and Pascal are stuck at midnight on the péripherique or when Elizabeth sits up in the middle of the night, the family is sleeping and she enjoys the peacefulness and security it means. Little does she know this is one of the last moments like this.  Another scene in which she starts to see her husband for what he really is, a failed aging guy, with a sagging ass and a secret mistress, is tragic and hilarious. She swears like a sailor using the most expressive language.

The book is an exploration of what it means to be a woman, a mother, a wife, of the different possibilities, the choices, the difficulties and pitfalls modern life has in stall.

The poignancy and immediacy with which this is written, the dialogue and interior monologue, so close to everyday language, bears the sign of a novelist who is also a successful playwright.  This dialogue and interior monologue is so authentic. At the same time there is an airiness in this writing that can describe the dark night of the soul and still let a light shine in. What I missed most in Bord de mer, the chance for transformation and hope, is present here.

I always felt that French women writers have a capacity to touch on every single detail of everyday life, from the most mundane to the most sublime and render it in a meaningful way, show us how we live now with a all the complexity there is.

As I wrote before, Un si bel avenir is about all the facets of the life of a woman, as a daughter, a wife, a lover, a mother and a friend. It is this last part that is the most accentuated. The book’s characters’ hope lies in the friendship with another woman. Romantic relationships are scrutinized, taken apart and discarded together with family ties.

I do not have such a pessimistic view of the couple, not at all. I think a lot of what is called love has not much to do with real love and that is the core problem. It seems, as if these two women show that it can be easier to live this type of love with another woman or the children, in relationships that are free of physical attraction.

I hope this books will be translated too. It isn’t flawless, there are a few breaks in the narrative towards the end which are abrupt but it has a lot of qualities, a lot to offer.

There is much more to Véronique Olmi than Beside the Sea. Although better constructed, Beside the Sea is awfully bleak. If you ever read anything else you will notice how nunaced her writing really is.

Un si bel avenir has been translated into German Eine so schöne Zukunft.

Coincidentally Emma has just reviewed Bord de merBeside the Sea. You can find her review here.

34 thoughts on “There is More to Véronique Olmi Than “Beside the Sea” or Un si bel avenir (Such a beautiful future)

    • I liked this one very much. She has an ear for dialogue. Beside the Sea is good but so bleak which isn’t exactly the way she always writes. It would be great if she was translated.

  1. Thanks for this Caroline. I know that Olmi is best known as a playwright, and I plan to keep an eye out for any productions of her work whenever I manage to get back to France.

    • I was glad to discover that she wrote more than one ood book. The playwright can be felt on every page of this book, the topics, themes, the dialogue. I don’t remember this quality from Beside the Sea.
      I should try and see one of her plays once.

  2. I tend to like these stories about people who are on the depressed side. Sometimes I think that people in psychological pain are the most interesting.

    I totally agree with you that forms of love lacking physical attraction are absolutely one hundred percent authentic.

    • There is no misunderstanding the itentions of the parties involved without physical attraction. But it’s sad as well. In this book you have feeling that the charcaters think, the moment there is attraction the relationship is domed sooner or later. To some extent, I suppose, it’s true.

  3. I’m one of the few people who didn’t love ‘Bord de Mer’ (as my review shows), but I am keen to try another… and luckily enough, my edition actually contains another story, ‘Numéro Six’. I’m sure after two novellas, I’ll have a better idea of her writing.

  4. Nice review, Caroline! I haven’t heard of Veronique Olmi before. But my knowledge of current French writers is quite poor. This book looks quite beautiful, insightful and fascinating. I liked this line from your review very much – “there is an airiness in this writing that can describe the dark night of the soul and still let a light shine in”. Thanks for this wonderful review.

    • Thanks, Vishy, I’m glad you liked it. I was happy that this wasn’t as bleak as Beside the Sea. Un si bel avenir is a very intimate book, very much like listening to a good friend who speaks about his/her sadness at is at the same time snapping out of it. There is a crisis but there is hope as well. And the freindship is very beautifully described.

  5. Oh my goodness. You are such a reading machine that I can’t keep up with all your gorgeous blog posts. Sorry I have not been around for a while. I must try harder to keep up! I wish more French women writers were translated. I haven’t read Beside the Sea, but I would love to read some of Olmi’s other work.

    • Thanks, Viloet. Bu, you know, my little secret is that I love novellas…I’ve been a very bad visitor these past weeks as well. I had issues with Beside the Sea but I liked this one very much and will read more of her. It’s a pity that they are not translated, like many of the German writers I really like. I have to keep on reviewing them (as does Emma on her blog) and then editors will maybe see there is an interest.

  6. Thank you for this great review!
    I wept & sobbed my way through “Beside the Sea”, I found it to be an extraordinary beautiful and sad book.
    Would love to read Un si bel avenir too!

    • Thanks, Sigrun. Un si bel avenir is not as sad but really well written. I like how she manages to capture the small things without making them sound meaningless. Maybe it has been translated into Norwegian since it does exist in German?

  7. I really like your last description…about friendship and that her hope lies in it.

    I wish it’ll be translated. I always love books about friendship.

    She writes play and book, she sounds like an amazing woman. Is there another playwright who write books too?

    • I liked the friendship part a lot. While I’m not as pessimistic about couples I think she has a point, friendship is often more valuable. And lasts longer.
      I think there are few writers who write both but now that you’re asking I can’t name any. I would like to see one of her plays.

  8. I’m going to read this. Bord de mer is bleak but she’s a gifted writer and I like the theme of a friendship between two women.
    Thanks for this, I didn’t know which one to choose after Bord de mer.

  9. Thanks for this review, Caroline. The bleakness and lack of hope in Beside the Sea didn’t bother me personally, but I know it did mar the book for some readers, so it would be interesting to read this one. Perhaps the success of Beside the Sea (critical success, anyway – I’ve no idea how it did in terms of sales) will spur an interest in translating more of her work into English. Otherwise, will have to brush up my French. A lot 🙂

    • I don’t see how else she could have written Beside the Sea. I think it captured this type of personality quite well. But as you say, some people may feel reluctant to pick her up again. THat’s why I think it’s important to know that her range is wide. I really like her writing and want to read more. Yes, brush up your French. 🙂

  10. This sounds wonderful and very much something I would like. I think I’d prefer to read it in French, too. I have Beside the Sea from Pereine and must get around to it, although I’ve been warned about the ending. I don’t mind bleak per se – it’s all how it’s done that counts.

    • I would love to know what you think of Beside the Sea. Too bad you have the English translation though.
      I don’t mind bleak but it’s good to know a writer can do more than that. I’m sure you would like this.

  11. I hope more of her books reach us in english ,I just posted on th NDIaye that won goncourt three years ago other french female writers I like are Sagan ,Desplechin and just read a george sand that I liked ,all the best stu

  12. I read Beside the Sea and while I thought it was well done, it was very bleak as you say. Very unremitting in the pain the mother felt. I do like the sound of this one–Peirene hasn’t published more than one book by each author, but maybe someone else will pick this up and translate it–it sounds good as well (and maybe not so dark).

    • It’s sad in places but not dark, there is hope and beauty. None of that in Beside the Sea I think it was a realistic portrait but it was too bleak for me.
      I was wondering whether Pereine would ever publish a second book of an author. If they only choose prize winning novels, maybe not.

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