AS HEARD ON BBC RADIO 4 BOOK AT BEDTIME
WINNER OF THE IRISH BOOK AWARDS NOVEL OF THE YEAR 2014
SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA FIRST NOVEL AWARD 2014
She stood on the edge of the grass. She hovered between worlds, deciphering the ground, tracing in mid-air the hall, the dining-room, the stairs. She was despairingly close to home now, to the rooms and the voices that contained the first names for home. Memories abounded and her heart pounded and history broke in . . .
Growing up in the west of Ireland in the 1940s Tess is a shy introverted child. But beneath her quiet exterior lies a heart of fire. A fire that will later drive her to make her home among the hurly burly of 1960s New York.
Over four decades and a life lived with quiet intensity on Academy Street in upper Manhattan, Tess encounters ferocious love and calamitous loss. But what endures is her bravery and fortitude, and her striking insights even as she is 'floating close to hazard.'
Joyous and heart-breaking, restrained but sweeping, this is a profoundly moving story that charts one woman's quest for belonging amid the dazzle and tumult of America's greatest city. Academy Street establishes Mary Costello as one of Ireland's most exciting literary voices.
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.