Book review: Academy Street by Mary Costello

For a book that tells the life story of a woman, Academy Street by Mary Costello is a deceptively slim novel.

Following Tess from her childhood in Ireland to her escape to Manhattan, and to the Academy Street of the title, through to motherhood and old age, Costello conjures an image of a life fully lived.

Academy Street opens with a young Tess encountering death, and the grief she feels stretches through the rest of the book, always in the background or under the surface. Along with her shyness, this leads Tess to be an observer for much of her life, not, in my opinion, participating as fully as she could. She’s a character who my heart aches for, even when good things happen to her.

Costello’s writing is sparse and straightforward, but at the same time full of depth. She creates evocative pictures, and there’s warmth in the story. Academy Street is the kind of novel that envelopes you before you even know it, and then builds to a shocking climax without you even realising, making the shock even worse.

Academy Street is a beautiful novel, about family and loss and opportunities missed and a life lived. It’s gentle while being harsh, quiet while being loud, and shows how even ordinary lives can make compelling stories. 

How I got this book: From the room of books at work.

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