Our Reading Guide for Beside the Sea with much food for thought.
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1 The first reference to this being the last trip for the family is in the first line. Is it important that the reader is aware of the finality of this holiday throughout the story?
2 The Mother’s language is simple throughout the story. Is her voice convincing?
3 The Mother tells us very little about her background. Discuss the effect that has on the plot.
4 The Mother commits a horrific act. However, does the reader have sympathy for her?
5 The end is described in minute detail. Is that necessary in the context of the story?
6 The Mother comments on her relationship with her two sons throughout the story, watching the boys act independently of her. “I wondered how long a child could go on being his mother’s son, exactly when he became unrecognisable” (p49). Explore Olmi’s depiction of a mother-child relationship, given solely from the mother’s perspective.
7 “I’m just missing a few chemicals, yes, that’s what I tell myself when I swallow my pills” (p69). How does the author tackle the often-taboo subject of mental illness?
8 The author does not give a year in which this story is set. Is it a timeless tale, or a very contemporary subject?
9 Discuss the role of the weather and the sea in Beside the Sea.
10 The book blogger William Rycroft compares Beside the Sea to the Booker shortlisted Room by Emma Donoghue: “The fact is that in a far shorter work Olmi writes completely convincingly about some one alienated from the world they live in and about
a mother’s desire to protect her children from harm, two of Room’s major themes.” Discuss how Olmi, and Donoghue if you have read Room, write about alienation from society.