Books Magazine

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

By Pamelascott

Imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humour and compassion. This is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

So begins the Pulitzer Prize winning memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank's mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank's father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy- exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling- does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father's tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.

Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank's survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig's head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbours-yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness.

Angela's Ashes, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt's astounding humour and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.

***

[My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born]

(Flamingo, 5 February 2011, first published 1996, paperback, 426 pages, charity shop buy)

***

***

I'm not quite sure what to think of this book.

It's one of the most depressing books I've ever read. Frank's childhood is heart-breaking and so painful to read at times. I really felt for Frank, his mother and siblings. I wanted to hug them all and weep. I wanted to give his useless drunk of a father a black eye.

Angela's Ashes is also fascinating, heart-breaking, life-affirming and other good stuff. I cried a lot.

I found myself completely gobsmacked that Frank survived at all. His father hardly ever worked and any decent amount of money he got was spent at the local pub. I hated his father, drinking and fighting himself to oblivion while his wife and children liked in poverty. Frank's brother and sister actually die because of their lifestyle and his father doesn't change his habits.

I liked the POV of the memoir - told from the perspective of a Frank as child, rather than imposing an adult reflecting on his life. Young Frank does not condemn his parents. He observes their behaviour and his own experiences but does not judge.

Angela's Ashes is not just about Frank's childhood, the experience of him and his family reflect what happened to millions of people. The idea is quite staggering.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

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