Review of 'Angela's Ashes'

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

angelas_ashes.jpg “Angela's Ashes” is a memoir that tells of the author's early life of poverty first in the United States then in Ireland in the 1930s and 40s. It is filled with unbelievable tales of hardship and tragedy that is often hard to take: The family having to live upstairs to avoid the flooding (and smells from the communal toilet) on the ground floor; The tragic deaths of multiple siblings; Sexual and physical abuse of young and old alike…it goes on and on almost as if it was an absurdist comedy but, in fact, this is all very real. Just when you think it could not get any worse, bam!, it does.

McCourt's father is unable to hold a job, spending any money he makes on drink while his mother, Angela, struggles to feed and house the rest of the family: Frankie, Malachy, twins Oliver and Eugene (who pass away shortly after their return to Ireland), and sister, Margaret (who dies after only seven weeks). After moving to Limerick in the mistaken belief it may be better for them in Ireland, Frankie's father takes a lucrative job in England and the family hopes the wages will raise them from their impoverishment. However, true to form, his father never returns and they see none of the money so while their mother is in hospital sick Frankie and his brothers start stealing food to survive then after the children accidentally set alight their house the family is evicted and move in with Angela's bachelor cousin Laman. After a fight with Laman, Frankie leaves to move in with his maternal uncle then gets a job delivering telegrams…and meets his first girlfriend.

This is a tough book to take though I did find myself occasionally chuckling at something that happens for the most part it is a matter of following an absolute train-wreck of a childhood. Throughout the story despite adversity the intelligent Frankie maintains an air of pragmatism and eventually manages to find some semblance of happiness. The incidents of his life are portrayed simply and honestly without any verdict passed upon them: They are what they are. It is this honesty that is, in itself, even more tragic: That someone would have to force one depravity after another at so young an age. Amongst all of this, Frank struggles to simply survive despite the overwhelming odds against him. In the end it is this that defines him and makes him stronger, standing up for himself and becoming a man.

Worth a read, but perhaps only in small doses…Don't expect a happy ending though perhaps in the follow-up novel “'Tis”?

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2021-09-04

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: Flamingo

Publication Date: 1996

ISBN: 9780006510345