From 1001 books:
"Subtitled 'Eight Lessons,' Elizabeth Costello is an innovative book, concerned with writing as a work of sympathetic imagination. Two of the 'lessons' -- 'The Philosophers and the Animals' and 'The Poets and the Animals' -- appeared earlier in The Lives of Animals (1999), which offers a disturbing perspective on the (in)human capacity to disregard the lives of those who fall outside the claims of sympathy and imagination. The controversial point of comparison here is the Holocaust and the death camps that bear witness to the fact that 'the killers refused to think themselves into the place of their victims, as did everyone else." This theme pervades the lectures, which blur the boundary between fiction and criticism, delivered by Elizabeth Costello, an acclaimed novelist obliged to respond to the critical industry that surrounds her work by offering up her consciousness to readers. Elizabeth is a reluctant celebrity, never quite giving her audiences what they want on the issues close to their hearts: the African novel, the woman writer, the question of censorship, and the representation of evil.
Her son John, recalls Costello as a woman who 'stormed around the house in Melbourne... screaming at her children, "You are killing me! You are tearing my flesh from my body!"' Secreted within her lectures is a 'life' -- elliptic, tantalizing -- that fractures the domain of public speech, of public reason, already in question throughout Costello's provocative 'lessons.'"