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 mer – Beside the Sea. You can find her review here.