Monday, December 14, 2015

book review: Academy Street by Mary Costello

The basics: Academy Street is the life story of Tess Cohen. It spans her entire life, from her childhood in Ireland to her emigration to the United States and the rest of her life here.

My thoughts: I am drawn to slim novels that cover a lot of ground, so I was quite intrigued by Academy Street, which has only 160 pages but covers Tess's entire life. As I read, I was enchanted, both by Tess and by Costello's writing and narrative choices. To cover a life in such a slim volume, it's obvious many things are left out. Costello emphasizes some times more than others and manages to write away years in a single sentence without feeling anything is lost. For most of Academy Street, it works. Aren't most years of our lives utterly ordinary? That's exactly what drew me to the character of Tess.

Without divulging exactly what or how, there is a major synchronous event that stripped much of my enjoyment out of this story. As I pondered why this choice of Costello's bothered me so much, I settled on a simple reason: it didn't feel authentic. As audacious as it is for me to question the authenticity of someone else's fictional characters, I must. This event negatively impacted my enjoyment of this otherwise beautiful novel. It turned a beautiful character-driven novel into someone else entirely. Clearly, it didn't work for me, but I imagine one's enjoyment of this novel hinges on one's reaction to this event.

Favorite passage:  " So many Feelings between people were encoded in gesture and silence, because words fell short."

The verdict: Academy Street is a fascinating, deeply moving novel, but my love for it was dampened by one pivotal moment. Despite my issues with this moment, this novel is worth reading, and Costello is a literary talent to watch.

Rating:  4 out of 5
Length: 160 pages
Publication date: April 7, 2015 
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Academy Street from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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1 comment:

  1. I loved this book. I felt Tess' loneliness on every page and somehow that made the book beautiful. I think I know which event you are talking about, but I have to say that it didn't bother me much. I'm sorry that it didn't work so well for you.

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