Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt

"There's nothing like a wake for having a good time." 
That one sentence, for me, sums up the tone of Frank McCourt's entire memoir: optimism, maybe even a bit of wry humor, in the face of depressing needs and desperate situations. Or perhaps it's merely the fact that I've never attended an Irish wake? Maybe they're a whole lot more fun than I can imagine. Whichever it is, this book made me think of a 1940s version of Jeannette Walls' book The Glass Castle, only a whole lot more Irish.

Angela's Ashes is the cure for anyone who thinks their life sucks. If you are reading this, you've got electricity. I'm willing to bet your clothes are relatively clean and decent, and (especially if you're an American like me) you're probably not very hungry. (Yeah, I'm talking to you! Put down the Cheetos!) In fact, Angela would say that we "don't have a notion of not having." But even in their constant state of want, there were still times the McCourt family managed to help those less fortunate, because "there are always people worse off and we can surely spare a little from what we have." It was mind-boggling enough that there were people less fortunate, but even more amazing to see the generosity of those who had so little to begin with.

I appreciated the fact that, even though his childhood was filled with hard times occasionally interrupted by harder times, McCourt doesn't seek to put his readers to shame. (I put myself to shame while reading his book, but that's not the author's fault.) He doesn't beg for sympathy or try to make his readers feel guilty for having too much or not giving enough. He's just telling it like . . . 'tis.

It's also intriguing to watch as McCourt develops his writing skills throughout his childhood. It's evident that he had an innate talent that was strong enough to survive abject poverty, and an imagination untouched by his harsh surroundings: "It's lovely to know the world can't interfere with the inside of your head." I'm not sure I agree with that, as the world seems to be messing with my head on a regular basis, but somehow McCourt made it through a much more difficult life than mine with minimal apparent damage.

Maybe I'm just a dummy, but I couldn't figure out why this book was entitled Angela's Ashes. The entire time I was reading, I was expecting Angela (the author's mother) to die, but she managed to hang on the whole way through. Oh, um, spoiler. So I've looked it up in order to enlighten you. Apparently the follow-up book, 'Tis, which was originally tacked on to the end of this book, concludes with the scattering of Angela's ashes. (Yep, that's another spoiler.) And Angela's Ashes concludes with the word 'tis. So there's a sort of symmetry there . . . although it still doesn't quite make sense to me. Shouldn't it have been the other way around?

11 comments:

Kay said...

This is a book that has been on my radar for many years and I've truly meant to read it, but I haven't. Thanks for reminding me about it again!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Why...have I not picked this book up yet! Argh.

Kristi said...

I picked this one up at a second hand store this summer. After your review, I'm excited to get to it. I visited Ireland for the first time last week so I've been excited to get into some books that deal with Ireland or have Irish authors. Sounds like a good place to start since I already own it.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I bought this book when I was fifteen, and started reading it but never finished it, and then forgot about it, as you oft' do when you're fifteen and have the attention span of a grasshopper.

A couple of years back, I bought it again, not recalling my failed attempt to read it, from a few years ago. I read this first page, it all came back to me, and I put it on my shelf, thinking I'll pick it up another day. Your review nudges me to do just that - pick it up.

I've been meaning to read The Glass Castle for a couple of months now, so perhaps I'll read that first which should motivate me to read Angela's Ashes.

Like you, I too would've thought that the book would have something to do with scattering the ashes. Oh well...

Kathy said...

Funny how many of us are the same way--we've been meaning to read this book for YEARS and just haven't gotten around to it. (I wouldn't have read it yet either, except it was chosen for book club!)

I do encourage you all to read it, though. It is excellent--one of those books that was a bestseller for a reason! And, though the author's childhood was full of depressing situations, the book itself is not depressing.

CharityReads said...

Great blog! I don't have anything else to say... I had fun at book club!

Amanda said...

I read this one years ago, when it came out... 20 years ago? I loved it and it's on my list of favs. I can't believe I never really thought about why it was called Angela's Ashes, because you are right she doesn't die. I read 'Tis as well and although it was not quite as good, it's still worth reading if you liked this one! But DON'T bother with his brother's book "A Monk Swimming", Not good at all.

Kathy said...

Thanks, Charity! We probably stayed later than 8:30 at that book club meeting. ;)

Mandy--thanks for the warning about his brother's book. What didn't you like about that one?

Amanda said...

Well, it has been years since I read Malachy's book as well, but I remember being very disappointed. He was selfish and mean; he hurt pretty much everyone who was a part of his life. Why would I want to read about that? And there was no humor either, the way Frank was able to spin something sad into a memorable laugh.

Kathy said...

Wow, that sounds pretty awful. I wonder if he managed to get published by riding on his brother's coattails?

johnrobertpatrick said...

The Best Book. Ever. Any questions. Read it many times. Wish his spirit would hover over me and mine. He's a great being a true protector of intelligence. Smiles, Robert