Mary Costello talks about her wonderful debut novel, Academy Street. Then, in light of the Supreme Court decision June 27 declaring Texas’s restrictive law on abortion clinics unconstitutional, we re-air our 2015 interview with Katha Pollitt about her book, Pro.
It is perhaps a banal observation that we live our lives on the inside far differently than the selves we project to others. Mary Costello’s debut novel Academy Street illumines this internal self in her spare and moving portrait of the novel’s protagonist Tess.
Academy Street follows Tess from her early childhood in western Ireland through her relocation to New York as a nurse, single mother and retiree, ending finally with a family reunion at her brother’s funeral back in Ireland.
The novel opens with a signal event: the loss of Tess’ mother at the age of seven. The shock renders her mute for several years, but even after she recovers her speech, she cannot shake the sense of standing apart from others.
Throughout her life, she carries forward a kind of social muteness. Yet her inner life is rich, filled with tender observations of the minute details of existence — the flight of a bird, a visit to a museum.
Largely undistracted by relationships, she is free to train her attention inward to examine her own feelings and her reactions to the external world. As she grows older and then old, a deep sense of connection to life as it is lived blossoms despite — or perhaps even because — of the repeated losses she experiences.
Over the seven decades the novel covers, a portrait emerges of a woman who treads a solitary path, beginning in fear and confusion and ending with a measure of peace and wisdom.
Mary Costello’s first book was a story collection, The China Factory, published in 2012. Academy Street is published by Picador.
On June 27, the US Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that severely restricted access to abortion clinics. The law required clinics to conform to onerous hospital operating room standards, instead of outpatient clinic standards that are widely recognized to be safe. The Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional, thereby calling similar laws in other states into question.
Perhaps some of the justices read Katha Pollitt’s 2015 book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights. We spoke with Pollitt about the book in February 2015 and replay that conversation.