The China Factory, By Mary Costello
The China Factory
Stinging Fly Press
By the end of the title story, the first of this debut collection, it’s clear Costello is the real deal, capable of turning clay into porcelain. The narrator, with a survivor’s guilt, recalls her last summer job in the west before escape to student life in Dublin. The epigraph from Rilke sets the tone: “We are all falling . . . all have this falling-sickness none withstands.” Throughout the stories, life’s harsh lessons – marital infidelity and frustration; parental frailty; the loss of a baby; the death of a child – are tenderly told, with deft description and a dramatist’s ear for dialogue. The collection, longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, sags a bit in the middle but ends on a high note, with elderly Alice reflecting painfully on the price she paid for love in our frigid, puritan past. Music is a recurring motif. “All my life,” says one of Costello’s characters, “music and books have been the refuge of my mind, the means of striving towards something pure and absolute and sublime.” This talented author has here similarly striven, and succeeded.