Thursday, 25 March 2010

Peirene Press Blog

Beside the Sea by French author Veronique Olmi was published in February 2010. It is the first title of a new independent publishing house, Peirene Press, who specializes in the translation of contemporary European fiction. The book received glowing reviews in The Guardian where Nicholas Lezard called it a “mesmerising portrait” that “ought to be read”and Chris Schueler in The Independent states that Olmi “makes understandable and even sympathetic a character from whom most people would recoil.” The book was reprinted after only three weeks.

Meike Ziervogel, publisher of Peirene Press, has written the following blog entry about publishing Beside the Sea:

What has Marmite got to do with Beside the Sea?

I hate Marmite. It’s horrible. It’s a joke not a spread, and the smell is most off-putting. When my husband eats it I don’t go near him. I also blame him and his Marmite obsession for the failing taste buds of our children. He force fed them the stuff at an early tender age and now they think they love it. But they can’t – they are half German after all. However I fear the damage has been done. My poor darling children are scarred for life.

A friend of mine leads a reading group. It consists of seven women, all mothers with children between 6 and 20 years old, some working full time, some part time. They read Beside the Sea and kindly invited me along to their discussion. My friend and one other woman could see the good in the book, the others I think would have preferred not to have read it. Bad writing, bad translation, bad blurb on the back and too expensive. That was their verdict.

My husband believes in Marmite. He even claims that it saved his life when he was eighteen cycling across the Continent. My mother-in-law, too, loves to sing its praises, especially its versatility – spread it on toast in the morning, turn it into a nice hot drink in the evening.

I am acutely aware that the reviewers – either newspapers or bloggers – have been predominantly men. They can see what I see in the text, namely a mesmerizing portrayal of a mind totally wrapped up in itself. I would even go a step further: Beside the Sea shows us how difficult it can be for a mother to understand that her perception of reality is very different to that of her children. Furthermore if she ever loses that understanding, her love becomes destructive.

When I read this book for the first time, I felt an excitement at having discovered a writer who managed – successfully – to draw attention to the dark side of motherhood. I assumed other mothers would too. On Monday evening I understood that my assumption was wrong. Some would rather not have encountered the book.

Just like Marmite and me. In fact, it was Adriana Hunter, the translator of Beside the Sea, mother-of–three and total believer in the text, who had the brilliant Marmite idea when I told her about the reading group. “How strange”, she pondered, “that the people who like this book feel so passionate… and those that don’t are equally vehement in the other direction. You could run a whole campaign along the lines of the Marmite ads (you either love it or hate it).”

Fabulous publicity stunt! It might make me also reconsider the virtues of Marmite.

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