Monday 29 May 2017

Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello.

A review by Lindsay Bamfield.

Alexandra leads an urbane life in elegant Paris but, beneath the smooth surface, relationships amongst family and close friends are fraught with unspoken disquiet. And emotions are less sophisticated. 

Alexandra is about to launch the latest book published by the exclusive Editions Gallici in the gallery owned by her husband, Philippe, and his old friend Henri. Henri’s wife, Geneviève, the epitome of French society, has invited Philippe, Alexandra and her mother to dinner.

Mom gasped on entering the restaurant Geneviève had chosen. Some of the tables had a spectacular three-tier centrepiece of fruits de mer, and seeing a woman drizzle shallot vinegar onto a plump, glossy oyster made me impatient to dispense with the niceties of introduction – I was hungry after all. This was une bonne adresse, off the tourist circuit and popular with the well-heeled residents of the elegant and conservative 7th arrondissement, which was home to the Malavoines. The only jeans were designer and baseball caps didn’t stand a chance. Mirrors and soft lighting made a large proportion of the diners look ludicrously attractive and I was certain the staff had been chosen on precisely those grounds.

Here, an unexpected meeting leads Alexandra to places she never dreamed she would go.

The first time I caused harm to those I love was an accident. The second is the reason I’m here.

The dramatic opening sentence signals the narrative of Alexandra’s life as she slowly unfolds it, to reveal the stories behind the relationships, the transgressions and the emotions that result. Is there anybody in the tangled web that is woven around the main players who is blameless? Can any of them come through unscathed?

In a skilled and delicately paced narrative with tantalising hints of backstory, Isabel’s Costello’s debut novel is as stylish as its Parisian setting.

I am inhaling Paris as I read, seeing its grand avenues and spacious apartments, the park where Alexandra runs. I hear the language and feel the nuances between the Parisians with whom Alexandra connects. Costello’s writing embraces the panorama of the city just as it focuses on the smallest details to portray each of her characters and the interactions between them. It breathes life into Alexandra, making me understand the motives for her actions even as I silently scream at her to take a different path.

Thank you to Literary Sofa for the review copy.

You can follow Isabel on Twitter here: @isabelcostello

You can follow Lindsay on Twitter here: @LindsayBamfield

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