Academy Street by Mary Costello
After reading the novel Academy Street by Mary Costello I curious to know more about the author. I had assumed she was a young writer, but the maturity of this novel made me think not. In fact, she is in her forties – so young enough to remember what it is like to be young but old enough to have the life experience necessary to write with such insight.
From the beginning Academy Street is delicious – the writing, the setting, the story are all wonderful. We meet Tess Lohan in 1944, she is seven years old. Her forty-year-old mother had died and the family is gathering. Tess, as one of the younger children in a large family, is often shuttled out of the way while the others prepare for the funeral and the wake.
Academy Street is a book that from the beginning had me completely absorbed by the story of a woman’s life as she makes her way from Ireland to New York. She is a solitary woman, almost an Anita Brookner like character, such is her aloneness. She is a woman who we know has intense feelings but they are so deeply buried she seems to almost glide along the surface of her life, protecting herself from the painful experience of being so alone.
This is a novel that will make you think about the fact that there are no guarantees of happiness in this life. That you may raise your children to adulthood thinking they will now safe – but they may not be. There is no guarantee that you will find a soul mate with whom to spend your life – or that you will have the children you crave.
Mary Costello writes about the value of friendship, sharing oneself with others. She writes about the solitary life after children leave and make lives of their own, and a spouse will replace a parent in the hierarchy of loyalty and love. She writes beautifully about the solace books provide for those who have few people in their lives. Books that can fill an empty life with the trials and adversity faced by fictional people brought to live by authors. Without leaving her home Tess also finds “The things she hankered after – encounters with beauty, love – she found in books.”
Mary Costello not only uses words with the skill of William Trevor or Bernard MacLaverty but she can tell a story that is guaranteed to bring you to tears – in a very good way.