Academy Street by Mary Costello
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: 2015
The Short Version:
The story of Tess Lohan’s life from Ireland to America and back.
Why I Read It:
A friend in my LibraryThing group recommended this one, so I picked it up from the library.
From the publisher:
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 reencounter 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.
Beginning in 1940’s Ireland as seven year old Tess observes the preparations for her mother’s funeral the tone is set early. Tess’s observations and thoughts make up the story yet it’s told from a somewhat remote perspective.
This is in keeping with Tess’s personality. She’s shy and a loner and keeps even her family at arm’s length. The depth of emotion is tempered by Tess’s stoicism even at a young age.
As Tess’s life unfolds, big events from the early 1960’s on up to near present day happen in the background and only so much as they impact Tess directly. Beautiful words and phrasing help make this compact story incredibly dense. Tess’s story is told as much with what is not said as with what is.
I would describe this book as quietly powerful because while I never felt blown away while I was reading it I find myself still thinking about it a couple of weeks after finishing it. Tess’s life is one of probably more than her share of sadness and disappointment yet she recognizes that she has also has moments of joy along the way.
I liked it, I didn’t love it, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about it.