Rather than wait until the December posting of favorite reads, let me draw your attention to an author and a book I recently found delightful — Mary Costello’s Academy Street.
This first novel is quite short, 146 pages, but somehow this Irish writer has managed to pack a full life into the story of Tess, an Irish woman who comes to live and to stay in America after spending the first part of her life in Ireland.
Initially, Academy Street reminded me of a favorite read of a few years ago, Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, also a story of an Irish immigrant (female) who comes to America.
But in the short time it took me to read Mary Costello’s lovely gem, I thought of another favorite, John Williams’ Stoner, also a portrait of a person’s whole life. Both Williams and Costello seem to ask the question of the value of their main character’s entire life.
While Academy Street is an immigrant’s story, it is much more than that. It’s the story of a young, introverted girl who loses her mother at the age of seven and eventually lives out her life largely isolated in America. As with Stoner, this novel focuses on an inner life and one that appears on the surface to be unremarkable.
Yet Costello has somehow created a character that is memorable, not because of what Tess accomplishes, but, perhaps, because of the kind of life she leads. And it is in the language and portrayal of Tess’s inner life that I found myself captured.
Ellen and I attend a Politics & Prose writer’s presentation Friday night where Costello read from her novel and talked about how she came to write this story. While she indicated the story was “entirely made up”, she also said the settings of the story came from her own life and the life of her mother and her aunts.
The writing is simple and lovely, restrained, really.
And I found both the narrative and the main character captivating.
I look forward to reading it again and have no doubt it will be on my list of favorite reads for this year.