Skip to main content

Book Review: Angela's Ashes

Author: Frank McCourt
Published: 1999
Publisher: Scribner
Number of Pages: 368
My Rating: 5

Summary from
“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.”
So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy — exasperating, irresponsible, and beguiling — does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.
Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank’s survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig’s head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors—yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance, and remarkable forgiveness.
Angela’s Ashes, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt’s astounding humor and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.

When I think about some of my favorite books, this one always tops the list. This is a book I have read many times over the years and is one of the first I pick up when I feel like rereading something.

I don’t love this book because it’s a happy story- it’s the complete opposite of that. I don’t read this book for the laughter- there is some but there are a lot more tears. I love this book because of the raw and brutal honesty Frank McCourt has in regards to his childhood and the matter-of-fact ways he looks back at it all. In no way is McCourt trying to gain sympathy from the reader or wanting us to feel sorry for him. He is simply trying to tell his story. And he has quite the story to tell.

As stated previously, this is not a happy book. In fact, I can say it might be one of the most depressing books I have ever read. It is even more heartbreaking because it is true. But you shouldn’t dismiss it and forget about it because Angela’s Ashes is also fascinating, funny, and tender. It all begins as Frank looks back on how his parents met and were married in the Depression era, not under good circumstances. The story continues through his childhood where he has to deal with extreme poverty, an alcoholic father, and numerous siblings, not to mention his family’s disadvantages due to being immigrants from Ireland.

The family goes through a lot of suffering and bad luck in New York, so they decide to move back to Ireland and start all over. Sadly, things don’t end up much better for them there. McCourt takes us through the years with his siblings, mother, and father, and reflects on all of the horrible situations they find themselves in. He also remembers hilarious incidents from his younger years, which would make me laugh out loud. I enjoyed that his memories were often told like a child would remember them- simply relating what he was experiencing even if he didn’t entirely understand it at the time.

This book is unique and special because McCourt narrates it through the eyes of his younger self, not reasoning or thinking about choices he made at the time but rather doing what he had to do in order to survive. As a young child, he was forced to take care of his siblings and fend for himself without adults around to help. He was essentially left on his own to figure out how the world worked and how to stay alive in it.

Overall, this book was fascinating as it gives you a look into the life of someone growing up in a poor Irish family during the Depression. McCourt’s writing was so strong in the fact that he was able to show things from the point of view of a child and yet still make it lyrical and mature. You will laugh and then you will cry, cry, cry. Go into it with an open mind and try it out- you will be in awe of Frank McCourt’s miserable, Irish, Catholic childhood.

-Busy Brunette


Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

My Rating: 5
Short and sweet: Wow. What can I say about this book? I will start by stating that if you need one amazing book to read this fall (or entire year), don't hesitate to pick up this one. The writing is delicious and the descriptions of life on the marsh make you feel like you are there. The novel follows Kya, dubbed by locals as the "Marsh Girl", throughout her life on the swamp, with and without her family. It also flashes forward to a mysterious death that happens in town and adds a sense of suspense to the entire ordeal as police try to find out what happened. Spanning the decades, the author did a spectacular job of character evolution and you can see Kya grow and change before your eyes. This is one I will be recommending for months to come and would love to read again. Go get it!

Book Review: Fractured

My Rating: 4
I finished this book in less than a day if that gives you any indication of how much I enjoyed it (and I have a young toddler so this was no easy feat). Every time I pick up a book that sounds like it will be suspenseful, I am hoping for an experience like this one. The writing was engaging, the plot gripping, and the emotions were electric. 
Fractured is the story of a famous author, Julie, who moves with her family to a new suburban neighborhood to escape an obsessed stalker that has haunted her for years. She is hoping the neighborhood will not only be a great place to start over, but will also be the perfect setting to help her write her second novel. This community with manicured lawns and impeccable houses turns out to be far from idyllic, however. 
The story alternates viewpoints between Julie and her neighbor across the street, John, which makes the reading go that much faster. It also switches between ‘then’ and ‘now’, a technique that basically causes you to never …

Book Review: Truly Madly Guilty

My Rating: 2
So I’m going to be completely honest with this one- I haven’t been this disappointed in a book in a long time.
After reading and loving Big Little Lies, I knew that I wanted to read another one of Liane Moriarty’s works when I saw it. Truly Madly Guilty started out interesting enough, it hops back and forth between present time and what seems like a few months ago at a friendly neighborly barbecue. We are made aware early on that something traumatic happened at the barbecue but must try to put the pieces together throughout the story to discover what that was.
True to form, each chapter is from a different character’s perspective, rotating mainly between the six adults that were there that day, each trying to come to grips with what happened and how it affected their lives, and marriages, forever. The mystery intrigued me enough to keep reading, but to me it was really slow and took a lot of effort to keep pushing on. About halfway through, you finally find out what happen…