Rated of 5
Angela's Ashes - A Memoir of a Childhood by Frank McCourt
Published by Harper Collins, 1996
Frank McCourt created a new genre of memoir when he wrote this book and its sequel 'Tis.
As he says himself "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". Without doubt growing up in Ireland in the Forties and Fifties was not the most advantaged of childhoods. Frank McCourt was raised in the back lanes of Limerick in a time of poverty in Ireland. His family's poverty was worsened by his father's alcoholism.
McCourt is a very good storyteller and has a very good ability for catching the little personal faults that make his characters come alive on the page. His description of the deaths of his brothers and sister is depressingly lifelike. The responder can feel the desperate hopelessness of the grief-stricken mother and her grim anger and antipathy of her alcoholic husband. However, this is not a completely depressing book - the story is interrupted throughout with a cynical, black humor that can have you laughing at pitiful descriptions of grief and sadness.
It is McCourt's ability as a writer and his skill to bring to life the miserable, hypocritical society of Limerick in the Forties and expose the cruelties that existed in Ireland of that time, which brought the anger of modern, comfortable middle-class Ireland down round his head. Yes, he may have exaggerated and dramatized his story, but ask people of his time and they will admit that, yes certainly, Irish society at the time was cruel, unforgiving and judgmental.