Last Thursday when my classmates were decked out in green and I was sick, I felt the sudden urge to read a book about Ireland or written by an Irish author. The only book by an author of Irish decent I had with me was Frank McCourt’s memoir about his childhood in Ireland.
Born in the United States but raised in Ireland, McCourt grew up in abysmal conditions in complete poverty. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Angela’s Ashes is named for his mother but a large part of the book is spent recounting what it means to grow up with a drunkard as a father and in the Catholic Church.
“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.” (pg. 11)
McCourt’s memoir has been in my TBR pile for years, and I probably read this book at the best possible time for me. The terrible virus I have is nothing like typhus or consumption or living in poverty. It put a lot of what I was feeling in perspective, that’s for sure.
McCourt presents the misery of his childhood with little extraneous emotion or unnecessary words. The voice of five-year-old McCourt echoes what one would expect of a five-year-old; the voice of seventeen-year-old McCourt echoes what one would expect of a seventeen-year-old. His memoir is clear, simple, and straightforward. But it is also packed with a lot of repetition.
What I mean is that McCourt’s father drank the dole away leaving him, his mother, and his brothers in complete poverty. This happens over and over again with McCourt’s miserable life punctuated with the addition of a new brother or the occasional shilling he receives from a job. In his life, however, are people determined to send him to school and keep him there. It made the last few chapters seem much more drawn out than necessary.
I am glad that I read the book, though. My mom loved McCourt’s memoir and while I did not feel as strongly about the book as she did, I am really glad I read it. It’s another book I should not have left sitting on my bookshelf for so long.
- McCourt, Frank. Angela’s Ashes. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Originally published 1996. Print. 364 pgs. ISBN: 068484267X. Source: Purchased.