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The China Factory

A collection of twelve exquisite stories that explore how ordinary men and women endure the trials and complexities of life and the ripples of disquiet that lie beneath the surface.

An elderly schoolteacher recalls the single act of youthful passion that changed her life forever; a young gardener has an unsettling encounter with a suburban housewife; a wife who miscalculated the guarantees of marriage embarks upon an online affair. And in the title story a teenage girl strikes up an unlikely friendship with a lonely bachelor.

Love, loss, betrayal. Grief, guilt, longing. The act of grace or forgiveness that can suddenly transform and redeem lives. In these twelve haunting stories Mary Costello examines the passions and perils of everyday life and relationships and, with startling insight, casts a light on the darkest corners of the human heart. 

With a calm intensity and an undertow of sadness, she reveals the secret fears and yearnings of her characters, and those isolated moments when a few words or a small deed can change everything, with stark and sometimes brutal consequences.


The China Factory
You Fill up My Senses
Things I See
The Patio Man
This Falling Sickness
Sleeping with a Stranger
And Who Will Pay Charon?
The Astral Plane
Little Disturbances
Room in Her Head
The Sewing Room


Reading of ‘The Astral Plane’ taken from this collection for BBC4
Interview for the West Australian
Review by Readings
Interview at Radio National Books & Arts Daily

Mary Costello
About the Author

Mary Costello’s short story collection The China Factory was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. Her first novel, Academy Street, was shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, the Costa First Novel Prize and the EU Prize for Literature. It won the Irish Novel of the Year Award and the overall Irish Book of the Year in...

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24 April 2013
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Praise for Mary Costello
andThe China Factory

‘It is the accumulation of tiny pleasures…that makes The China Factory such a satisfying and accomplished debut…[Mary Costello’s] writing has the kind of urgency that the great problems demand—call them themes; they are the kind of problem that make a writer. With a bit of luck, they could keep her at the desk for the rest of her life.’

‘A publishing coup…there are shades of John McGahern and William Trevor in many of these disquieting tales of loss and regret but Costello’s nimble, exacting prose style is very much her own. The stories engage with the human condition in such a profound way it’s no wonder they leave an indelible mark.’

‘These twelve stories examine the dark side of everyday life…Echoing Thomas Hardy, she reveals how even ordinary lives can be full of drama and incident…Beautifully crafted but never pretentious, Costello’s stories are stark and honest and her characters linger long after you close the book.’

‘The subtle underpinnings, the intuitive capacities—the eye for details, the feel for language, the care of it—are much in evidence…One hopes to read more of Mary Costello.’

‘Twelve perfect stories…Mary Costello has an acute ear for dialogue, but her real talent is for choosing what to leave unsaid…A collection of exquisite stories so intricately wrought, so unique and enthralling as to be utterly bewitching.’

‘A sense of inescapable isolation runs through Mary Costello’s unsettling, beautifully-crafted short story collection…They are connected thematically and by the clarity and precision of Costello’s writing, but also through recurring images and events that echo in a dreamlike way throughout the book…A highly impressive, tightly-written debut.’

‘['This Falling Sickness’] is a perfect piece; where pace, character and restraint, emotion all exquisitely combine…This story is simply a masterpiece…This is a powerful collection from a very fine unshowy writer.‘

‘You are there, on the underside of a character’s skin, in her mind, behind his sightline, swimming pacifically in the underwaterness of their emotions, somehow muted and colour-sharp at once. If there is something that ties these stories together, it is not so heady as a theme, like “the existential state of aloneness.” It is more that loneliness envelops the world of each story like a living, moving thing, and in the opening sentences, a kind of emotional atmosphere opens up, like a tiny mouth, where the reader enters, slips in quietly, whereupon the mouth closes, seals the reader in. If this description strikes you as sexual, then it’s not far off; these stories want all of you, mind and body and soul, like a consummation.’

‘Comparison to James Joyce’s Dubliners is irresistible. We have not only a shared location but also a wide view of society evoked through the intimate details of a small community. The same sense of hard-boned, sinewed reality runs through each story.’

‘Boldly jumping into the everyday lives of such ordinary people, Costello draws out their inner depths in each tale she tells. Fears of the future, haunting memories of the past and day-to-day internal struggles take her characters to unexpected paces, often surprising the reader.’

‘Stitching thematically similar stories into a collection can be risky. But The China Factory is a collection that plays to its format’s strengths. Since you know a character’s gains in life will generally be fleeting, those gains begin to hum with their own pre-emptive nostalgias. You learn to appreciate the sublime moment…more than the characters possibly can themselves. So while the prose is plain and confident…Costello’s real firepower is structural, both in terms of the individual stories and the total book. These stories resonate profoundly together, whether through powerful parallels or upsetting contrasts.’

‘These 12 stories of Irish lives are…accomplished and often very moving, plunging straight into those moments in life that can seal a person’s fate. The Sewing Room in particular is a brilliant and terrifying tale of loss.’

Other editions ofThe China Factory
  • The China Factory
    ISBN: 9781922148469
    24 April 2013
    Buy ebook