Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt
Once again I begin a post with a sad apology – posting so far this year has been extremely lack-lustre but now all of my university work for this year is out of the way and I am making a summer promise to myself to revive my little blog. So here we go again guys, and I'm going to start with a review of a book that I have read at least four or five times now.
Angela’s Ashes is a memoir by the author Frank McCourt, which I think I read for the first time aged about fourteen. Whilst revising for an exam my tutor recommended reading it in order to get a feel for the setting of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock (also highly recommended !) so being a good little student I bought a copy of Angela’s Ashes and promptly DID NOT read it before my exam. Oh well, now that exams have finished I dedicated some lovely cosy evenings to re-reading it and am extremely glad that I did.
This book is a seamless blend of anecdotes and memories about Frank McCourt’s childhood, and his families move from New York to Limerick, Ireland. Beginning before Frank’s birth it tells the story of his mother Angela meeting his father Malachy McCourt and of her quickly falling pregnant, ensuing in a hasty marriage enforced by Angela’s strict family. Frank is born, followed by Malachy, a set of twins Oliver and Eugene and then little baby Margaret.
Sadly the little baby Margaret dies and devastated by her death both Angela and her husband are plagued by ghosts of the dead child and decide to move to Ireland for a better life. Instead they move to an Ireland ridden with poverty and damp from the river Shannon. Frank’s father falls through a series of jobs, drinking each weeks wages before moving to England and promising to send back money for his large family. The bleak portraits painted of a family struggling to survive, of children fighting over clothes in the morning and stealing bread and milk from doorsteps is so frightening you almost forget it is real. As soon as he is fourteen Frank begins to work as a telegram boy , and from then on devotes his time to saving money as he aims to sail over to America – mimicking the journey his parents took – in order to find a better life.
I think my favourite aspect of the text is that alongside the portrayals of poverty in living memory is the touching exploration of a boy negotiating the perils of adolescence. Frank McCourt may have responsibilities and challenges that we may not ever experience but his overwhelming feeling of awkwardness in his own skin is something which is easy to relate to.
This is a book I would definitely recommend to everyone, I personally find it very humbling to read about such poverty and even more so because it is in Ireland – a place so close to home. However the strength of the text lies in Frank’s blend of naivety as well as his grown-up responsibilities of caring for his family lead him to having an interesting way of perceiving the world. It is a humorous, intelligent and heart touching memoir, one that I will definitely read again.