Mary Costello – Academy Street

I often wonder what it’s like to move to another country, to leave your life behind and start afresh somewhere new. It’s been the experience of many Irish people over the years and it has become increasingly prevalent in recent times. Mary Costello’s Academy Street is the latest novel to give an insight into this experience and certainly marks the arrival of a very important new voice.

She creates a great vision of the experience of growing up in Ireland and the landmark events in her life. Costello captures the beauty of the sunlight on the coffin of Tess’s mother, the feeling of the ground being taken away, the world turning on its head when her mother is taken away from her. There’s a powerful image of the loneliness of her father when he’s coming toward the house, his life will no longer be the same and his behaviour will change utterly. The house is filled with silence and there’s no longer room for the sound of the radio. It’ll be many years before Tess can fully realise what he’s endured, the great sorrow that has overcome him.

Tess moves over to New York and finds a whole new world waiting for her. She has to get used to the rhythm of her new home, effectively having to learn a new language and experience an entirely different way of life. She suffers the loneliness that comes surely from her past experiences and there’s a sense that happiness brings danger. The world becomes new with the close bond between a mother and a child, but connection is not always easily found. Costello carefully examines the connection to place, to Academy Street and to where Tess came from originally and the problems faced by a woman that has a child before marriage.

The only thing I could possibly fault with this book is I felt it could’ve been a bit longer. It’s a whirlwind of a life and it really flies by. Costello has given us a character that moves with a quiet grace in her attempt to create a new life for herself in a world completely different from the one she came from. It’s beautiful stuff, and something that you’ll probably want to enjoy in a single sitting.

Academy Street will be pubished by Canongate on October 30.


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