Margaret Jull Costa
Margaret Jull Costa has been a literary translator for nearly thirty years and has translated works by novelists such as Eça de Queiroz, José Saramago, Javier Marías and Teolinda Gersão, as well as poets such as Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen and Ana Luísa Amaral. She has won various prizes, most recently the 2015 Marsh Award for Children’s Fiction in Translation for Bernardo Atxaga’s The Adventures of Shola. In 2013 she was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 2014 was awarded an OBE for services to literature. In 2015 she was given an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Leeds.
Her most recent publication is Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías (Hamish Hamilton, 2016).
Trans. Bruce Penman.
This historical novel first published in 1827 and set in northern Italy in the seventeenth century is incredibly fresh and utterly entrancing. The narrative voice seems startlingly modern as the author, by turns, chivvies us on and apologises for digressions, and the plot is never less than riveting. The translation is excellent.
That They May Face the Rising Sun
This was McGahern’s last novel, and for me it is his most elegiac. Set in the same remote part of Ireland where McGahern himself lived, it is a novel in which almost nothing happens, but one that is as steeped in the often painful past as it is in the pleasures of the everyday and the tentative, necessary joys of family and friends. The writing is absolutely exquisite.
A Good Man is Hard to Find
Flannery O’Connor died when she was only 39, having written two novels and thirty-two stories, but she is one of the unquestionable geniuses of the short story genre. Her stories (this was her first collection) cast an unflinching eye on human nature, and it is not a pretty sight. And yet what stays with you, apart from her assembly of Southern grotesques, is her ear for dialogue, her way with words.
The Shadow Line
English was Joseph Conrad’s third language, and yet he is one of the masters of English prose. And when he writes about the sea (for he, of course, spent many years at sea as a young man), few can compare. In this book he describes a young man crossing the line into maturity, and as with all Conrad’s ‘sea novels’, what the reader takes away is Conrad’s depth of knowledge and experience not just of the sea, but of human nature in all its diversity.
Thomas was a superb prose writer, and wrote many eloquent books about nature. However, he only began writing poetry (at the urging of his friend Robert Frost) in 1914, and was killed at Arras in 1917, soon after arriving in France. Every one of the 144 poems he wrote in that brief period is a gem of concentrated observation and feeling. A reading group could happily spend a couple of hours pondering and savouring, say, five or six poems, or spend several sessions on this most subtle of poets.