Summary and book reviews of Academy Street by Mary Costello

Academy Street

by Mary Costello

Academy Street by Mary Costello
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 160 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2016, 160 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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About this Book

Book Summary

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 re-encounter 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.

1

It is evening and the window is open a little. There are voices in the hall, footsteps running up and down the stairs, then along the back corridor towards the kitchen. Now and then Tess hears the crunch of gravel outside, the sound of a bell as a bicycle is laid against the wall. Earlier a car drove up the avenue, into the yard, and horses and traps too, the horses whinnying as they were pulled up. She is sitting on the dining-room floor in her good dress and shoes. The sun is streaming in through the tall windows, the light falling on the floor, the sofa, the marble hearth. She holds her face up to feel its warmth.

For two days people have been coming and going and now there is something near. She wishes everyone would go home and let the house be quiet again. The summer is gone. Every day the leaves fall off the trees and blow down the avenue. She thinks of them blowing into the courtyard, past the coach house, under the stone arch. In the morning she had gone out to the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

With all her imperfections and foibles, Tess makes for an interesting character, and readers will find themselves easily drawn to her story. I felt like I was checking in on a distant friend each time I picked up the book.   (Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie).

Full Review (655 words).

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Media Reviews

Library Journal

In this gemlike first novel, Costello shows her Irish roots; the imagery—light-filled absences, wells, birds—calls to mind Seamus Heaney's poetry and her plot and characters Colm Tóibín's brilliant Brooklyn. Throughout, the language is measured and clear, and Tess is ultimately accessible and credible to a wide range of readers

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Darkly beautiful ... Costello renders her homely, knowing heroine with craft and compassion in this sad, slim, rich novel.

The Guardian (U.K.)

Costello's writing is so controlled and convincing. She captures with great acuity the complex inner world that makes Tess both withdrawn and desperate to experience life ... Hers is a quiet life, but one with enormous impact on the reader.

Irish Independent

Mary Costello is a very gifted writer and this is a beautifully written novel.

The Australian

To call it restrained is to understate both the turbulence buried within the novel and the control with which it's conveyed ... The handling of time is fluid and cumulatively devastating.

Author Blurb Judges of the 2014 Costa First Novel Award
A remarkable debut with a transcendent, quiet power.

Author Blurb J. M. Coetzee
With extraordinary devotion, Mary Costello brings to life a woman who would otherwise have faded into oblivion amid the legions of the meek and the unobtrusive.

Author Blurb Donal Ryan, author of The Spinning Heart
Academy Street is understated, graceful and, ultimately, devastating. Even as my heart was breaking I couldn't put the book down.

Author Blurb John Boyne, author of The Absolutist
To recount a life story in a novel is a difficult task. To do so with brevity and unsentimental honesty takes greatness. Academy Street is a powerful and emotional novel from one of literature's finest new voices.

Author Blurb Maggie O'Farrell, author of Instructions for a Heatwave
I read Academy Street cover to cover in one night, unable to stop. It is a short novel about a long life, stretching from rural Ireland to post-9/11 New York, and brings to mind the elegance of Colm Toíbín and the insight of Alice Munro. Its stealthy, quiet power will exert a hold over any reader.

Author Blurb Ron Rash, author of Nothing Gold Can Stay
Intensely moving but never sentimental, Academy Street is a profound meditation on what Faulkner called 'the human heart in conflict with itself.' In Tess Lohan, Mary Costello has created one of the most fully realized characters in contemporary fiction. What a marvel of a book.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

A remarkable debut novel.
“Another vocation, then, reading, akin, even, to falling in love, she thought, stirring, as it did, the kind of emotions and extreme feelings she desired, feelings of innocence and longing that returned her to those vaguely perfect states she had ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Selective Mutism

Mary Costello's Academy Street follows the life of Tess Lohan, an introverted Irish woman who often feels anxious in social settings, largely preferring the world of books and imagination to external interactions. At various times in her life, she finds herself at a loss for words, in situations that "[take] all her talk away." After one particularly frightening experience as a child, Tess loses her ability to speak altogether. She falls silent for months, unable to utter a word.

She joins her hands and says a Hail Mary. She listens for the words, to test her sound. But no sound comes. She prays louder, harder. She gives a little cough, and tries again. She starts to cry.

It's likely that Tess suffers from "selective ...

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