I picked this book up probably almost 10 years ago (when the movie was being released) and have tried to read it two or three times in that span. According to my dog-eared page, my last attempt took me to page 60. I don’t remember exactly why I gave up on the book, but probably because I thought it was incredibly boring. :) I was determined to get this book off my TBR shelf once and for all—and I did!!
Angela’s Ashes is Frank McCourt’s memoir of his coming of age. His memoir begins when he is a small child growing up in New York; his family keeps growing in number despite their extreme poverty, and eventually his aunt’s pay for their way back to Ireland to live. The McCourt’s situation continues on a desperate path in Ireland as his father, Malachy, finds it difficult to keep a job and when he does have a job, he drinks his paycheck before his family can see a dime (or shilling?? I am a little fuzzy on my foreign currency in the early 1930s-40s). Frank must endure daily ridicule from his classmates, members of the Catholic church, and others in general as he tries to make sense of his life and make the most of the little he has been given.
The book outlines Frank’s desire to become a man and be able to do the things that adults do—such as drink the pint, earn a living and his way to America, and do other things that I don’t need to mention. Angela’s Ashes is written from Frank’s point of view at the various stages of his life—so the narrative becomes much more detailed the older Frank is. While this type of narration was difficult at the beginning of the book when Frank is a small child (and also a great part of why I dislike James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist…), Frank’s perspective became one of the things that I enjoyed most about the book. Sometimes it was funny to see Frank trying to make sense out of his life and some of the “rules” that he had to endure, but at other times it is heartbreaking as Frank doesn’t really quite understand what is happening to his family as they continue to struggle to survive.
So what’s up with the rating? There were times when I was really interested in the narrative, and to be fair, I never truly struggled with the prose (except the first chapter, maybe). As I got further into the book I found myself reading more and more, which could have been because of my 6+ hours in the car this weekend or because I was more interested. But, it came to a point where I could only hear about so much more heartache. I often forgot that I was reading someone’s memoirs rather than a fictional account—but for most of the book, it was just more of the same. Dad is a big fat loser. And I don’t want to diminish what Frank went through as a child, but the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most were the ones where he got away from the narrative of his dad spending all of the money in the bar and coming home drunk. I felt there was more meat to his stories about church and classroom and dancing lessons and looking for a job and becoming a man.
Do I recommend Angela’s Ashes? With caution—although I think I’ve seen more positive than negative reviews. Will I read his follow-up memoir, ‘Tis? If I can get my hands on a copy for cheap cheap cheap—but I’m not running out to store anytime soon for it.