Our featured text at our first workshop, in May 2012, was Véronique Olmi’s superb novella Beside the Sea (2010; originally published in French as Bord de mer (2001)), which is about maternal ambivalence and despair, ending with a mother’s murder of her children. My paper on the text focused on the mother’s voice and perspective in the novel, considering its various literary techniques and effects.
As part of my argument, I stated that the narrative was relatively coherent and thus did not fall into the category of ‘trauma fiction’ (as defined by Anne Whitehead (2004)), that is, fiction that mimics traumatic narratives, and includes techniques such as repetitions, ellipses, flashbacks, blank spaces, non-chronological narratives and screen memories, to evoke the effects of trauma. However, since then, I have thought more about this point, because there are silences in the text – as indeed I mentioned in my paper – and I would now tend to argue that haunting the narrative of the events leading up to the mother’s killing of her children are traces of another narrative, suggesting a trauma behind – or at the root of – the tragic outcome. This trauma narrative is, then, not the narrative of child murder, or even of maternal ambivalence. Rather, it is to be read in the silences and fragmented comments about the narrator’s family background and her physical and mental state (for example, asides about broken teeth and shoulder problems suggest she has been subjected to physical violence), implying that the killing may partly be the outcome of some trauma that cannot be spoken. My paper is still work in progress and I intend to explore this aspect further in due course.
Since the book, which has been translated into a number of European languages (including Italian, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Hungarian and Polish), generated a great deal of discussion at the workshop, and there is much more to be said about it, perhaps we could kick off the virtual reading group by discussing it further now. So, I’d like to invite participants who were at the first workshop and anyone else who would like to get involved to post their thoughts about this text here. If you have not yet read it, it is available in English translation from the publisher, http://www.peirenepress.com/ and in English and other languages from various on-line booksellers.