Title: Academy Street
Author: Mary Costello
Publisher: Canongate Books
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Very few times you come across a book that makes you feel and takes you beyond that, almost in another realm of consciousness. “Academy Street” by Mary Costello was one such book that did it for me this year (and the year has not even begun properly, so to say). If you are the sort of reader that only reads a book a month, then I will almost force you to read, “Academy Street”. It is a book which every reader (no matter what level of reader) should read at least once in his or her lifetime and I am not kidding about this.
“Academy Street” came to me at a time when I needed it the most. Yes, I do believe that books find you when they have to. Till then, no matter how hard you try, you cannot immerse yourself in the book. The book’s permission is needed. “Academy Street” is a novella of one woman and her journey from being a girl to an old woman and life as she sees it through those decades and years gone by. This is perhaps me simply putting it. The book is so much more and the layers to it are just phenomenal.
I had not heard of Costello before picking up this one but I am only too glad that I have now. Tess is not just a character. She is perhaps somewhere there in all of us in various forms or maybe just one. The book charts Tess’s story so to say from childhood till she is an old woman – all her happiness, her anxieties, her loves, her transitions, the loss of her mother (which is stated at the very beginning of the book) to her migration from Ireland to America, a new land with new possibilities, new hopes and new losses. How can one remain untouched by this novella? This was my only thought when I finished this gem of a book.
I am quite sure that other writers might have explored this theme in other books, but what makes this one different is of course the writing. Costello does not confuse the reader. The facts are laid out. The story-line is simple. The writing is simpler. The characters are not so many. So what makes me say that this book is astounding? It is all in the words and the sentences used by the writer.
At the core of the book, there is empathy, loneliness and sheer need to be accepted which intensified chapter after chapter. You get to know Tess like a close friend and there were times I just wanted to keep the book down, so there would be more reading time with it. The book is about her siblings, her friends, but above it all, it was to me, just a brief and simple testimony to life and the living. Tess is constantly finding herself. She is constantly seeking, trying to become that someone, and that will ring true for anyone who picks up this book. There is grace, devastation, eye for detail, elegance and above all empathy to Costello’s writing. I suggest you go and start reading this right now. Savour and cherish it, as books such as these are meant to.
Here are some of my favourite lines from the book. There are obviously more, but for now these will do.
In her life, ever, there were only a few people who had been a fit, with whom she had felt understood.
Ease her terrible ache for human touch, human love. The room was flooded with light and she was blinded, mesmerised.
And how all things change or end or disappear, and this would too, this day, this moment. She looked around. And you too, you will all disappear.
Oh honey, when it comes to the heart, it ain’t about men or women, but people.