Triple Choice Tuesday: Isabel Costello

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is Isabel Costello, who hosts the Literary Sofa blog featuring guest authors, book reviews and her twice yearly selections of recommended new fiction, as well as candid accounts of her own experiences as a writer.

Her ‘home territory’ is the crossover zone between literary and commercial fiction and she has a special interest in contemporary American and French writing.

Isabel has completed two novels and has had several stories published and shortlisted in competitions including the Asham Award. She loves to connect with readers and has shared short stories with live audiences in London and Brighton.

When she’s not reading or writing she can often be found talking books on Twitter @isabelcostello

MadameA favourite book: Madame by Antoni Libera (translated from Polish by Agnieszka Kolakowska)

It’s not surprising that people think it’s impossible to buy books for me, but my friends are actually very good at introducing me to titles I haven’t come across. Madame was a leaving present from a former colleague, and an inspired choice. Set in Communist Warsaw in the late 60s, it’s the captivating coming-of-age story of a precocious teenager fixated on his glamorous French teacher. It’s literary, sophisticated and engaging in its portrayal of a place, an era and a relationship charged with all kinds of tension. I rarely re-read books and it’s always a risk, but after dipping into Madame a few times this week, I can’t resist.

LetrangerA book that changed my world: L’Etranger by Albert Camus (various translations)

I read French and German at university, and France has always been a big part of my life. L’Etranger is an extraordinary book, which is accessible on many levels. By the time I encountered it at 16 I had emphatically rejected my Catholic upbringing, and this text ignited my interest in two related questions: the search for meaning and randomness. All of this contributed to my becoming a writer (although if you ask any roomful of authors why they write it’s astounding how many reply, ‘To make sense of life’!)

In 2013, I attended a stunning dramatic reading of L’Etranger at the Southbank Centre to mark the centenary of Albert Camus’ birth and I have visited his grave in the small town of Lourmarin in Provence. That sounds slightly fanatical but it’s very close to where we often go on holiday.

Here-are-the-young-menA book that deserves a wider audience: We are the Young Men by Rob Doyle

This one makes me nervous because I don’t presume to know what other people have read and often find myself unaware of books which are apparently extremely well known. This paperback hit my doormat out of the blue and caught my eye, as raising two sons has made me reflect a lot on masculinity and the portrayal of men, especially in the context of feminism. A story following some disillusioned Dublin teenagers the summer they leave school, this is not for you if you have a problem with profanity, blasphemy, substance abuse, explicit sex and sickening violence. (The only one of these which bothered me was the violence). But if you can handle all that, this is a fearless and arresting novel that transcends shock value to question what it is to be young, male and lacking meaning (there we go again). It is undeniably and deliberately crass in places, but I was more struck by how poignant, profound and insightful it is. There are far too many safe and predictable books out there — this isn’t one of them.

Thanks, Isabel, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday! 

These all sound fabulous, especially the first choice, which I’ve not heard of before. Camus is one of those authors I’ve not read despite owning most of his work — he often gets name-checked in this slot, which is perhaps why I’ve started to buy his work. And the final book has been on my radar for some time, given I’m quite partial to Irish novels, but now it’s promptly rocketed up my must-read soon list!

What do you think of Isabel’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

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17 thoughts on “Triple Choice Tuesday: Isabel Costello

  1. I love L’Etranger too ….isabel you must read Mersault Contre Enquete by Kamel Daoud which was listed for the Goncourt last year ( tho didn’t win). It’s a retelling of L’Etranger from the Arab POV ….an examination of colonialism and an hommage to Camus . I need someone to discuss it with !! Great choices ….never heard of Madame so must track it down .

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  2. Yesterday I was discussing how diverse my reading, and my wishlist, is becoming thanks to joining Twitter in Sept – this is an excellent example. Both no 1&3 appeal – no1 makes me think of Notes on a Scandal – sadly my ‘la fenetre, le stylo’ limited French rules out no2… Cpt P & me can’t reminisce about our trip to Paris without giggling at the natives raised eyebrows as I merrily slaughtered their language

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    • Hi poppypeacockpens,

      You can read Camus in English. The translation is usually titled The Outsider. It also has what’s often regarded as one of the most memorable first lines of any novel, often translated as “Mother died today.”

      I’ve also heard great things about Rob Doyle, although (shame on me) I’ve yet to read it. Another Irish writer tipped for great things is Colin Barrett, whose Young Skins won the Guardian First Book Award last year.

      Happy reading.

      Shane

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    • Yay, for diverse reading! I know that blogging certainly gave me courage to try things out of my comfort zone and it also made me realise I wasn’t quite as well read as I thought — for instance, prior to 2004 I don’t think I’d ever read a novel in translation; now about 20% of what I read was not originally published in English 🙂

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    • Hi Claire, I agree there’s something lovely about a gift becoming a favourite book. And re-reading Camus always reveals something new! La Peste also made a big impression on me and recently I was looking at Le Mythe de Sisyphe.

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  3. Pingback: Guest Author – Alex Christofi on Writing the Shard | Isabel Costello

  4. L’Etranger… it’s unforgettable and returns to you at odd moments in time but always returns. I read it years ago in french at university and was incredibly moved by it, although my french was terrible so I’m not sure how it sunk in at all – perhaps by osmosis! When I re-read it in English I was relieved to find I really had understood it.

    I love literature from behind the iron curtain. Madame sounds intriguing. Thank you for your post.

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  5. Hi Shane and Poppy
    Yes, Camus is probably one of the world’s most translated authors. Although I have not read him in translation, I do agree with the essay on ‘The Stranger’ at http://www.camus-society.com that this is a more meaningful translation of the title than ‘The Outsider’ for the reasons stated. In any case, that site is a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in the great man!

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  6. I’m intrigued about your wider audience book. There is a lot written on the challenges of being a young female (and rightly so b/c we are still have so far to go), but little on the challenges of being a young man in a world of changing expectations.

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    • Hi Laura – you’ve put your finger on why this book interested me from the very premise. Couldn’t agree more about the necessary focus on the pressures etc faced by young women and fighting discrimination but (perhaps particularly as a parent of sons) I am sometimes concerned about widespread negative generalisations about young men which don’t strike me as the way to encourage respect between the sexes. Thanks for commenting.

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  7. Pingback: Guest Author – Conversation with Rob Doyle | The Literary Sofa

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