A vibrant, intimate, hypnotic portrait of one woman's life, from an important new writer
Tess Lohan is the kind of woman that we meet and fail to notice every day. A single mother. A nurse. A quiet woman, who nonetheless feels things acutely—a woman with tumultuous emotions and few people to share them with.
Academy Street is Mary Costello's luminous portrait of a whole life. It follows Tess from her girlhood in western Ireland through her relocation to America and her life there, concluding with a moving reencounter with her Irish family after forty years of exile. The novel has a hypnotic pull and a steadily mounting emotional force. It speaks of disappointments but also of great joy. It shows how the signal events of the last half century affect the course of a life lived in New York City.
Anne Enright has said that Costello's first collection of stories, The China Factory, "has the feel of work that refused to be abandoned; of stories that were written for the sake of getting something important right . . . Her writing has the kind of urgency that the great problems demand" (The Guardian).
Academy Street is driven by this same urgency. In sentence after sentence it captures the rhythm and intensity of inner life.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
With dreamy and poignant prose, novelist Mary Costello celebrates the life of a quiet, unassuming woman. We follow Tess from her childhood in rural Ireland to her life as a nurse in New York City. Costello has a gift for making the mundane seem meaningful and lovely; Tess's life is one of simple pleasures, not large adventures. We found ourselves caring deeply as Tess experiences the pangs of first love and the aches of loss and loneliness. Academy Street swept us along on the winding journey of an everyday life, made remarkable by Costello's skills as a writer.
The debut novel from Costello (The China Factory) begins with Tess Lohan, a child attending her mother's funeral in Ireland, and crisply shuttles the girl through adolescence and deposits her, now a young woman, in New York City, where she lives with an aunt and wonders what the world has in store for her. In just over 150 pages, Tess's full life passes by, from her days working as a nurse, to her nights out dancing, and her brief romance with a lawyer bound for the Air Force, which results in the birth of her son, Theo. As a single mother in the 1960s, Tess struggles with family disappointment and social stigmas, yet she soldiers on, raising her son solo, and eventually watches him drift away from her grasp as he grows into a man. Costello works wonders on the page, employing precise prose to craft a resonant narrative out of a rather ordinary lifetime. Though a fateful incident near the novel's end feels somewhat exploitative and out of character with the rest of the narrative, Tess's overall story full of struggles and meekness proves there is often beauty to be found in the mundane.