Isabel Costello takes us to the quintessential Paris neighbourhood that is the 6th arrondissement in her debut novel Paris Mon Amour. But, once there, she guides us away from the romance of the tourist trail and instead we find ourselves deep in the heart of the Left Bank, and caught up in the tangle of Alexandra’s life.
‘The first time I caused terrible harm to the people I love it was an accident. The second is the reason I’m here.’
When Alexandra discovers that her husband Philippe is having an affair, she can’t believe he’d risk losing the love that has transformed both their lives.
Still in shock, Alexandra finds herself powerfully attracted to a much younger man. Jean-Luc Malavoine is twenty-three, intense and magnetic. He’s also the son of Philippe’s best friend.
With every passionate liaison, Alexandra is pulled deeper into a situation that threatens everyone involved.
I could tell from the book’s cover that this was no frothy confection of a love story. The petals on the cover and the book’s main character once I met her were both too brittle and refined a beauty for that. From Alexandra’s opening words, I sensed there was no happily ever after. And yet, I wanted to know what had happened, why it ended so badly, and if Alexandra felt its loss even when it had hurt others.
British-American Alexandra relates the events of the book through a series of therapy sessions where not even the relationship with her therapist escapes scrutiny. Paris Mon Amour may chart the course of an affair but it also looks into the many relationships which will feel the ripple effect of its impact.
Thankfully, Jean-Luc is more than simply a distraction or Alexandra’s younger lover in the book. These two connect more than sexually, despite the age gap, while in other matters such as their future, one sees more clearly than the other where it will all lead.
Isabel Costello realises her characters so well that I stopped judging them early on in the book. She writes them in a way where what they’re doing makes a certain kind of sense to them or such that they can’t resist the pull of attraction or risk of danger, even when they know it’s wrong or won’t end well. I began to see how fallible and human they were being. Isabel Costello took me into their world, up close and personal it’s true but, even in the sex scenes, this never feels voyeuristic or titillating.
Paris, too, plays its part here: it is the Paris of Philippe’s art gallery, Alexandra’s small art book publisher, the enchanting streets and chic eateries of the Left Bank. The city pulses with life through Isabel Costello’s description and feels less a backdrop and more of a character in its own right. There’s a sense that this story would not have played out so elegantly elsewhere, and a rift opens up upon leaving it behind.
Paris Mon Amour is a smart, sensual grown-up novel about infidelity, and the close-knit society that makes it so taboo. It fizzes with energy in places while being quietly devastating in others, thanks to Isabel Costello’s beautifully-nuanced writing, and is an intelligent and assured debut.
Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello is published as an ebook by Canelo and in paperback by The Literary Sofa. It’s also available as an audiobook from Audible. You can find it at Amazon UK or on Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop. Isabel Costello hosts The Literary Sofa blog and can be found on Twitter.
My thanks to Canelo for providing a digital copy to review via NetGalley.
I have one paperback of Paris Mon Amour to give away. Leave a comment below and the squirrels will pick a winner.