on 27 July 2006
What more is there to say about Angela's Ashes?
When I bought the book I thought I must be just about the only person in the world not to have read it - and that's probably true. I had no idea what it was about or what to expect - I suppose I thought it was about some girl called Angela!
What I found instead was a truly moving, originally crafted and personal account of an extremely fascinating childhood in the face of extreme poverty and family troubles.
Frank McCourt is a young catholic boy growing up in Ireland during the second world war. His father is an alcoholic and the family are practically destitute, living in extremely grim conditions and surviving on charity handouts and the generosity of others.
Though Frank's father clearly loves his children he is unable to control his overpowering desire to drink away what little money the family has - literally leaving his wife and children on the verge of starvation awaiting his return at home.
The prose is written in a way which some might find difficult to read at first, but in fact this purposely `amateurish' style perfectly reflects the innocence of young Frank and serves to endear the reader even further to his plight. He is incredibly honest and allows the reader an insight into even the most personal and private aspects of his childhood.
Though the circumstances of the McCourt family life may sound incredibly depressing what emerges most strongly is the incredible positivity of young Frank to turn his life into something better. In the face of everything, he is able to find such joy when life so rarely turns in his favour and the sense of love and loyalty to his mother and brothers is truly touching.
I have also read the follow up to this book, Tis, which documents Frank's life after he finally achieves his dream of emigrating to America and the promise of prosperity, work and all the food he can eat. Of course, it's not all quite as easy as that. If, like me, Angela's Ashes made you wanting more, then I'd certainly recommend a read of this sequel too.
on 23 May 2016
What a surprise- theres something that i don't like and yet every single person thinks its the best thing ever.I tire of always being an outsider. But I'm not going to lie, I couldn't get to understand the story as its all so confusing.I don't care if I'm stupid, I'm just being honest. Not for me.
on 26 September 2015
McCourt, Frank. Angela’s Ashes
In 2016 Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes will be 20 years old, but it is still as fresh as it was when first published. After retiring from teaching in America McCourt began sorting his memoirs of childhood poverty in Limerick in the early Twentieth Century. The book, which he never expected to sell more than a few hundred copies took him a little over a year to complete. It won the Pulitzer Prize and a cascade of other awards. It topped bestseller charts for more than two years. Only Charles Dickens has managed to capture the general reader’s imagination like McCourt.
Told entirely from the child’s perspective, the narrative succeeds in drawing the reader into a charmed circle of listeners to a tale of poverty and survival against the odds. Frankie was given up for dead in the fever hospital, refused absolution by priests because he cannot abstain from masturbating and hence is not in a fit state to be absolved. He finds an ‘easy’ priest, but the minister falls asleep during his confession.
Throughout the book, the Catholic religion controls the minds of rich amd poor alike, but the rich have other comforts; the poor simply beg and starve and mostly die young. Yet this memoir, which should have been an agonising read, remains buoyant to the end. Frankie’s father is a confirmed alcoholic and mostly absent, leaving his wife Angela to cope with an increasing number of starving infants. Frankie suffers the loss of his siblings but needs to work to keep alive the remnants of his family in a rat-infested, fleahouse that collapses in a flood. He helps unload the farmers’ carts on market days and ‘at the end of the day they’ll give me vegetables they can’t sell , anything crushed, bruised or rotten in parts.’
The boy manages to borrow books from the library, using Angela’s tickets to read about virgin martyrs ‘who always died singing hymns and giving praise not minding one bit if lions tore big chunks from their sides and gobbled them on the spot.’ But when the librarian finds him reading Lin Yütang she is horrified and dismisses him from the library for ever because of the use of one word - ‘turgid.’ ‘I know now what Mikey Molloy was talking about … that we’re no different from the dogs that get stuck into each other in the streets and it’s shocking to think of all the mothers and fathers doing the likes of this.’
Although now starved of books Frankie survives and graduates from being a telegram boy to a deliverer of newspapers and magazines and finally to writing threatening letters for Mrs Finucane, a rich old lady on her last legs who has him saying prayers for her soul. Then, Pennies from Heaven or in Frankie’s case pounds: ‘The Friday night before my nineteenth birthday Mrs Finucane sends me for the sherry. When I return she’s dead in the chair, her eyes wide open. I can’t look at her … but I take the key to the trunk upstairs. I take forty of the hundred pounds in the trunk … and I’ll add this to what I have in the post office and I have enough to go to America.’ He drinks the sherry and throws the ledger containing a record of debts owed by the poor of Limerick into the River Shannon.
on 25 June 2001
Dear Frank, your book Angela's Ashes is the book I intended to write, but never had the "guts" to tackle. Like you, I lived my early years in desperate and unrelenting poverty in Englands equivalent of Limerick - Catholic Widnes. Every word, sentence, and paragragh described my childhood so unerringly that as I read I felt as though I was locked in discussion with you. Which in truth I was, inasmuch as I found myself crying and angrily exclaiming in agreement as page after page told "my story". Cathartic - Cathartic. Thank you for proving that human spirit can rise above and triumph over poverty and degradation imposed through the sacraments of manic religious indoctrinators. Just how long are the starving children of this world expected to accept near death in this life for a reward from God if, and when they reach heaven? My intended version would not match yours for humour, because I just couldn't recall much that was humourous about those times. Your version was a revelation to me and caused me for the first time ever, to consider forgiving my sworn enemies the Catholic Church and it's teachers, and to get on with and enjoy whatever time is left to me. I close by telling you that, through reading your books my family have at last gained some insight into what "ails me".
on 5 October 2003
Oh my word - I simply don't know how to praise Frank's book enough. How can I possibly do it justice?
I am one very slow reader and often find I become bored with a book long before I reach the end; I give up on the book due to sheer frustration that it couldn't bear my interest for the many weeks it took my hopeless reading speed to tackle it. I practically NEVER finish a book. I have similar problems to mild dyslexia and so struggle to read with ease and often am almost reduced to tears with the frustration that I cannot enjoy a book because of it.
Then along came Angela's Ashes - and I was smitten; so smitten, not only would I not give up on Frank's treasure of a work, but I simply couldn't wrench myself from the book for love nor money. I read this book in 3 days and literally had to tear myself away from it. I was captivated from page one and laughed, cried, cheered and almost lived every page of that book with little Frank. I can honestly say that I cannot recollect EVER having such joy at reading a book. The only experience I can equate it to was the absolute heaven of discovering the magical world of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory as a child.
Like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Angela's Ashes was such a wonderful experience for me to read - I felt swept along with Frank into the world he so charmingly and poignantly writes about. It's one of those very rare creations that leaves you knowing you are changed by it - better for it somehow. I challenge anyone to share in Frank's memoirs of his childhood in Ireland and not be changed for it.
Frank writes with such a boyish charm that it is easy to believe it is the BOY Frank taking you on this journey, rather than the MAN he is now. That said, the style is by no means childish - but genuine, real, alive with the emotions he went through in his experiences and saturated in the innocent hope and perseverance that children often excel at in such trying circumstances.
Born in New York to a Northern Irish father and Southern Irish mother, Frank was the oldest child. Sadly, the death of his first sister prompted the family to move back to Ireland – to Limerick.
Frank and his family lived in terrible poverty - his re-telling of which should shock those of us who experience the rather gluttonous and greedy lifestyle actively encouraged in the West. I felt absolutely ashamed of myself for the sheer opulence in which I live compared to Frank and his family back then. Frank sadly lost a number of siblings to illness due to the terrible damp, hunger, disease and poor healthcare experienced by his family - yet they soldiered on with courage and pride and you cannot but wonder at how marvellous the little children were in the face of such awful circumstances. Not like kids today - demanding designer clothes, mobile phones and thousands of pounds worth of Christmas presents or they’ll sue their parents for divorce! What on earth have we come to these days?
I laughed so loud at Frank's re-telling of his school days and his often hilarious Catholic upbringing (I am lapsed Catholic myself so could really relate to Frank's tales). Frank has such a great, humourous writing style that simply flows and sweeps you along with it. It lilts.
I cried at times too - the terrible strain his poor mother must have gone through with her babes to care for in such harsh circumstances.
Not only does Frank get under your skin with Angela's Ashes - you get INSIDE his: really experiencing the life he recounts. I feel I know that little boy from Limerick - scuffed knees, sore little eyes, constantly grumbling tummy and a touching devotion to his dear mum, dad and siblings: whatever came his way.
Especially charming for me was the relationship Frank talks about with his brother Malachy – it’s simply precious.
This is a bitter-sweet, beautifully crafted memoir that should never fail to impress on its reader the truly important things in life. I shall take so much with me from Angela's Ashes that I feel I owe Frank personal thanks for writing his story and sharing it with us.
Most of all, I remain so very touched by the ability of such a young lad - so very cold, hungry and sad at times that it was intolerably hard for him - to triumph over adversity, poverty and personal sorrows with such courage and honour. What a charming and truly wonderful little boy, and what a fantastic and very precious work is Angela's Ashes.
Thank you Frank for sharing this with us.
on 9 June 2005
this book is astounding ! it is the most emotional, funny, tragic and moving book that i have ever read, and remains to be my favorite book of all time. i read an awful lot, and as frequent readers all know, when you put a book down with in 5-10 mins, your mind is elsewhere on your own life again. But Angela's ashes refused to exit my mind. it was so desperatley sad, i will agree with another reviewer, that i feel i could not possibly moan about any little flaw in my life after readin ghits.
you MUST read this
on 17 November 2001
When I saw this story in film format I enjoyed it but when I came across it in the college library I thought I'd give it ago and I've never enjoyed a book as much as this! It's the true story about poverty stricken Ireland in the 30's and how the author himself battled starvation, dying siblings and an alcoholic father but always managed to get through it without any complaint. It's heart wrending but funny and it's so touching it'll make you cry. I didn't want it to end and was quite gutted when I'd finish reading. It's an excellent novel and it makes you wish you could dive right into it and help him through his tough childhood. It's fantastic and to not read it would be to miss out on a piece of history which deserves to be known world wide. I'm glad this book was written and I'm glad he wrote a follow up "'Tis" which I'm definately going to read! Please read it. You'll love it!!!
on 14 September 2000
When the film of this book came out there was a lot of hype about it and I am afraid I tend to react against hype rather than for it. Nevertheless, I am a big fan of Irish stories and I am happy that I swallowed my prejudice and bought and read this book.
I am afraid there is no point becoming bleary eyed about this story: it is a raw story of some very poor people living what can only be described as a wretched existence. Life is raw, the language is raw and the overall situation is raw.
We are taken from the USA to Ireland on the back of the Great Depression to what can only be described as an Even Greater Depression. Frank is the narrator and therefore the main character; and he tells us all about his family and his circumstances all the way through to his manhood. We learn about his father: an Ulsterman who regularly drinks away the tiny amount of money the family has; and who wants his boys to fight for Ireland's cause. We learn about Frank's mother, Angela, who floats from being absolutely desperate to being a tower of strength. There are also the siblings: the ones who survived and the ones who didn't.
We are told about housing conditions that must be impossible for us to imagine let alone survive living in. There is a daily diet that consisted of bread and tea and precious little else. There are also relatives who are presented as hard, uncaring and lacking sympathy: we have to bear in mind that these people were suffering too; and appreciating that should help us to tolerate them more.
I was a bit surprised that although there is a lot of humour in the book, there wasn't much childish glee and happiness coming through. Despite the wretched existence that the family went through, children do tend to remember sunshine and laughter from their childhoods and this element is missing. If it genuinely was missing, then I think that Frank has done very well to get to the stage where he has been able to go to University, graduate, work as a high school teacher and write this book.
As I was around two thirds of the way through this book I started to think that there shouldn't be any sequels to it: this is a stand alone story. However, there is a sequel whose title is the final word of this book "'Tis", reflecting Frank's very interesting reintroduction to the land of the free.
Despite the epithets on the book's cover, this is not a romantic story, this is not a story that we should pretend to empathise with; and it is not a story that we should ignore. Frank McCourt has written a book that should awaken a reality in us that poverty, misery and depression don't only belong to distant history and in the slums of Calcutta and Rio de Janeiro and Harlem: they can be a lot nearer than we think.
on 15 February 2000
I can't understand the hype and acclaim around this book. Sure some of it is vivid and well written, but I found it far too sentimental and stage Oirish. Given that it is 50-60 years since the events, I just didn't believe all the dialogue, characterisation, and narrative. I have no doubt that the broad scenario and the events are true; it just felt like an embroidered semi-fictionalised version. Too many of the characters come across as stock Irish figures rather than real people, and for all the graphic nature of some of the descriptions of poverty, it actually felt softened and covered in a tinge of nostalgia of the 'we were poor but we were happy' variety. An enjoyable enough read, but absolutely not the masterpiece it is being made out to be.
on 15 September 2013
This book is much better than the film. Frank McCourt had a very sad childhood. The 1940s were very hard times. You'll laugh,cry and be glad you were not one of his siblings in such miserable times in Limerick. A book that will keep you transfixed till the last page and wish for the follow-ups