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Pub Date 7 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 7 Mar 2024

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A captivating short story collection from award-winning novelist Mary Costello exploring love, loss and the turbulent lives of ordinary people.

In Barcelona, we meet a cast of characters who live turbulent inner lives. In a Spanish hotel room a marriage unravels as a young wife is haunted by a past love. A father travels to Paris to meet his scientist son and is exposed to his son’s true nature. A woman attends a reading by a famous author and comes to some painful realisations about her own marriage.

The stories in Barcelona reveal the underlying disquiet of modern life and the sometimes brutal nature of humanity. Whether on city streets, long car journeys or in suburban rooms, we glimpse characters as they approach those moments of desperation – or revelation – that change or reshape fate.

A captivating short story collection from award-winning novelist Mary Costello exploring love, loss and the turbulent lives of ordinary people.

In Barcelona, we meet a cast of characters who live...

Advance Praise

‘Clear-eyed and provocative, bruised and bruising: these are the stories of a writer at the very top of her game’

‘It is quite marvellous the way her gentle touch and patience steers the reader towards such hard-won insight into the human heart and gets us to stand before such terrifying visions’

‘Costello writes with such perspicacity and elegance. Barcelona was quietly devastating in the best possible way’
SARA BAUME        

‘Costello is a brilliant writer whose fiction is always meticulously structured, her language precise; but what I find most striking in Barcelona is an unrelenting moral clarity, which forces us to confront the damage we do in this world, to our fellow creatures as well as to ourselves. These stories haunt us long after they are finished – as they should’
RON RASH        

‘Costello’s characters are unsettlingly vivid. For some time after reading, I found myself trying to recall who I was talking to about visiting a faith healer, where had I seen that timid German Shepherd? The entanglement of all living things co-exists with the impossibility of understanding the private life of anything, a feeling of surfacing and resurfacing, as you recognise something profoundly real, yet cannot touch it. The toll it takes on a body to face an unwanted truth and not turn away. These are beautifully realised stories. I am haunted by them’

Praise for Mary Costello:

‘Costello imbues lyricism into each sentence of her carefully constructed prose . . . she writes with a poetry that extends beyond being ornamental’

‘Costello's writing has the kind of urgency that the great problems demand - call them themes; they are the kind of problems that make a writer’
ANNE ENRIGHT, Guardian        

‘One of literature's finest new voices’
JOHN BOYNE        

‘Costello proves herself an absolute master in Academy Street’

‘Clear-eyed and provocative, bruised and bruising: these are the stories of a writer at the very top of her game’

‘It is quite marvellous the way her gentle touch and patience...

Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9781805301837
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 16 members

Featured Reviews

Mary Costello is a writer I have enjoyed reading previously so I was excited to be given the opportunity to read her new collection of short stories. They are varied in terms of settings and characters etc. but all incredibly poignant. Recommended.

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I dont very often read short stories, but I was really tempted by the synopsis. And I really enjoyed it.
'Barcelona' is a memorable book. The stories are bold and powerful, aiming to shock the reader, exposing ugly aspects of human nature. I liked the blunt writing style. My absolute favourite was 'The Choc-Ice Woman"

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I was drawn to this collection by the arresting cover, it’s stunning! My plan for this short story collection by Mary Costello was to read one story between my current reads but when I began reading I couldn't put this down and read it in its entirety in a couple of hours.
I loved these stories. Quiet powerful slices of ordinary life. Marriages flickering and dying. Fathers and Sons. Hope, grief, regret, memory all written with great poignancy and power. Some of the devastation in these stories is gentle, in another its visceral; the author captures emotion with such skill and depth, I was right there with these people on buses and in bedrooms.
Each story in this collection is strong but one in particular , The Choc- Ice Woman" will stay with me for a long time.

A wonderful collection, I am looking forward to buying a copy when its published, it's one I will return to and recommend widely.

4.5- 5 stars.

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Barcelona is a collection of nine short stories by award-winning Irish author, Mary Costello.
Barcelona: To celebrate their fourth anniversary, David drives Catherine down the motorway to Barcelona. David’s almost reckless driving, his choice of porn as entertainment, the way he always manages to outwit her with words, with logic, and his suggestion to attend a bull fight, when he’s well aware of the strong feelings about animal cruelty that began when an activist boyfriend perished, these all cement for her the disconnect that afflicts their marriage.

Deus Absconditus: Martin takes the Eurostar to Paris to meet up with the son who works in biochemistry research for the US Government’s Chemical Defence. Recalling an incident when John was still a child, he finds himself hoping that he has instilled the right values into his firstborn.

At The Gate: on a last-minute trip to a writer’s festival, mathematically-minded Peter asks his literary wife about the author to whom they will be listening. As she describes him, she is aware of the many little things about herself that are irritations for Peter. She finds herself strongly identifying with one of his characters and her aversion to animal cruelty.

My Little Pyromaniac: a freelance copy editor finds that her new home is next door to that of a former lover and his family. Over the months, what she observes makes her grateful for the fire mishap that ended their relationship, and causes her to take a bold step.

The Choc-Ice Woman: as sixty-four-year-old retired assistant librarian, Frances accompanies the hearse driver taking the last of her older twin brothers to his final resting place, she muses on his life, and her own. Unlike his twin, Patrick, Denis Linnane withdrew early from life, a recluse, cared for by his mother, then his sister, to his final days. Meanwhile, Frances married her former lodger, Frank, believing it to be a satisfactory union until she spotted him sharing a choc-ice with a woman in his van. What a person tolerates, how and why…

Assignation: Mary, now Marion, is three years in America, in service to the once-wealthy Cooke family, performing general duties and looking after seven-year-old Elizabeth. Along comes Michael Lalor, a cousin of her friend Lizzie back in Mayo, and Marion is considering taking a chance on him: he might bring happiness. But then she recalls an awful incident just before she came, and decides that Elizabeth is all the happiness she needs.

Hitchhiker: the last day of an island prompts her to ask about his former lovers, in particular, the woman to whom he gave a lift to Sligo and ended up engaged to. The intensity he describes shows her that something between them has been lost.

Groovejet: a young man-s short-lived affair with an older woman haunts him.

The Killing Line: on his father’s death, Oliver reflects on the uneducated brother whose promising future was sacrificed for his siblings. Patrick takes over the farm, specialising in beef. When he is ten, Oliver is taken to see their animals killed at the abattoir, an experience that turns him into a vegetarian, renders him unable to succeed his father in the farm, and somehow fosters an obsession with instruments of torture.

These are nine small but potent doses of Mary Costello’s dark and meaningful prose. Readers should not expect sweet tales with happy endings; rather, many, especially those that focus on animal cruelty, are quite confronting.

Her descriptive prose is often marvellous, as shown by: “Sometimes she thought she could live on cigarettes alone, silently, deeply inhaling, letting thoughts gather, coalesce, then purge themselves in the exhalation” and “people do this– she did this, she kept secrets– so that they can re-imagine their lives when lived life is not enough” and “Travel heightens the senses, makes small, easily forgotten details more acute, significant, imperishable. Travel makes of home a wound that accompanies him everywhere”. Unsettling and thought-provoking.

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A collection of interesting short stories by an acclaimed Irish author. With the exception of the last story which I found brutal and distressing, I enjoyed the rich storytelling. Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for the arc.

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Barcelona is an excellent collections of stories from Mary Costello. Most of the stories here feature people on holiday or making journeys and the writing throughout is excellent. The title story sees a couple argue on holiday about the woman's dead teenage boyfriend, while The Hitchhiker sees a holidaying couple rehash his previous engagement. Not all the stories here are convincing but the writing throughout is superior and well worth reading.

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Costello has a great eye for circling the nub of her story/characters and drilling down into the interior. I love the grasping of small parts of a life which, through choice words, captures a much bigger life and personality. As ever, with short stories it is the author's gift to offer oblique ways into the dynamics of the ordinary.

I am very drawn to Irish short stories. They seem to have an inherent quality marker. I wonder if it is rural upbringings that encourages many authors to look deeply inwards, assess characters who have grown up in isolated, wild landscapes.

I did not love all the stories in the collection but they all made me pause, reflect. Surely that it a sign of a well crafted book?

Thank you to NetGalley and Canongate for allowing me to read and review this book

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Beautifully written, poignant tales of human love and loss. Perfectly captures the human experience. Some stories are stronger than others, but that’s to be expected in any collection.

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