Friday, April 1, 2011

Angela's Ashes

by Frank McCourt

This is another book I've read multiple times, and I still think it's great. And Lent somehow seems like a fitting time to be reading this book. Although I'm not sure the people in this book would appreciate that opinion.

I remember when it first came out it was something of a phenomenon.

The reader is instantly absorbed into Frank's childhood world. He sets the mood brilliantly right from the start, with a few of my favorite lines:
When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived 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.
And 'miserable' is certainly the word I would use to describe his childhood alright. About 2/3 of the way through the book I found myself thinking, Enough. This can't be real. This is beyond the beyonds. And I'm often suspect of memoirs. They're not "truth" strictly speaking. I wonder if Frank condensed some of his memories to make the book move faster or to make certain scenarios more interesting to the reader. Or that really his how Frank remembered his childhood. Either way, it's fascinating. And I don't think it's out of a sense of schadenfreude. To me, Frank's childhood is completely foreign, which makes it so interesting. I can not, and frankly do not want to imagine a life without bathrooms, a life of chamberpots and one outdoor lavatory per lane.

Stylistically, sometimes the grammar bothers me. I know it's largely dialectal, the leaving out of verbs, but there's occasional verb confusion in paragraphs and other minor things. It's charming at first, but towards the end it starts to wear on you.

"Angela's Ashes" is a completely engaging read. It's not everyone's cup of tea though. Some people find it just too depressing. I don't think it was meant to be, it's just as honest as a memoir can be. It is sad and painful but has it's humorous moments. Somehow life doesn't seem quite so terrible when told through the eyes of a child. But as Frank gets older, right around 13 or 14, Frank really starts to grow up and you begin to see Limerick in a harsher light.

On another note, I remember trying to read "'Tis" and thinking it wasn't nearly as good as "Angela's Ashes." Maybe one does of McCourt's style is enough.

No comments: