Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

Posted 11 February, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook / 20 Comments


Title: Angela’s Ashes
Author: Frank McCourt
Date Finished: Feb 10, 2008
Yearly Count: 7
Pages 460
Rating: 3/5

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.

20 Responses to “Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt”

  1. Joy

    Well, you can have my copy for FREE, if you want. Is that cheap enough? :)

    Here’s the deal…I bought it years ago at the library, but never read it and have no plans to read it in the future. I read Teacher Man and it was okay, but I really have no desire to read this one. Anyway, after I brought it home, I noticed that the front page had been torn out (kind of ugly-like, too). I’m guessing there was an inscription on there and they wanted it out before giving it to the library. ??? Needless to say, it’s a hardcover that’s in great condition, except for the first page. If you want it, it’s yours. Let me know. :)

  2. *Joy – if you are willing to part with it, let me know how to go about this! My email is tstineman AT hotmail DOT com. I always think its “fun” to imagine the history of books. When I pick them up at booksales I often find curious things–one time a picture of the previous owner’s cat that I presume was used a bookmark. I find inscriptions interesting as well :)

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful review of Angela’s Ashes. I too, attempted to read this book before, and didn’t get nearly as far as your 60 pgs! But I found a free copy and now it’s sitting on my TBR again. I’m going to give it a go one of these days.

  4. I remember when I first read the book, I was blown away with the whole perspective thing. The change in tone of the narrative over the years was just amazing and thats what kept me gripped to the book.

  5. *Jeane – the further I got into the book the more I felt compelled to finish. Once McCourt isn’t writing from the perspective of a young child, the content to me is a little more interesting.

    *Chica – I really enjoy perspective and point of view when reading–although sometimes not so much. Near the second half of the book, I found it more interesting but at first it was tedious. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is written in a similar fashion.

  6. I really enjoyed your review, though I’m not sure I want to read that book!

    I wanted to welcome you to the What’s In A Name Challenge. I added your name to the list of players. Thanks for joining!


  7. I read this book a while back and I remember that there were some parts I really liked and some parts that were a struggle to get through because they were so depressing. I did win 2nd place at a speech meet once with a passage from this book. So it does have a special place in my heart :-)

  8. Yes, heartache and humorous are two good words to describe this book. I’m glad to see that you were able to finish the book this time around. Nice review! Thanks for stopping by my review earlier.

  9. *Annie – Thanks for hosting the What’s in a Name challenge! I enjoyed picking out my titles–its such a fun and creative idea!

    *Kim – Congrats on your speech win! I’m curious to know whether you recited something from the book or wrote a speech about the book?

    *Diane – I’m glad, too! :) I feel a great sense of acomplishment at having finished this one. Best wishes!

  10. I read this one when it first came out and loved it. When I joined paperbackswap last year ‘Tis was one of the first books I requested. I couldn’t finish it. I could barely START it. I wondered at the time if I changed or if he did, but in any case, I have no desire to pick it back up.

  11. Lisa – Oh no!! Well…good news is I probably won’t start it for a while since I have other TBR and challenge books that I’ll read first. Hopefully, though, ‘Tis won’t lurk around for another decade! :)

  12. I watched the movie a year or two after it came out, and I had the same problem with it that you did with the book. At some point it just became…too much. It’s not like what he had to go through isn’t worth writing (or making a movie) about, but for me it didn’t work too well.

  13. I read Angela’s Ashes when it was still fairly new (although I’m usually the one who demurs on the “in” book) and was both fascinated and horrified. Mostly, I recall wanting to slap his mother.

  14. Has it really been 10 years? I feel so old now . . . I read this book back then and was really drawn in by the author’s narrative and story. I did like the movie as well. I read the second book as well but didn’t like that one quite as much. I haven’t read his most recent memoir. I have heard many good things about the author from people who knew him personally during his teaching years. He sounds like a great man.

  15. *Nymeth – and for me I don’t know if it was just too much in general, but too much of the same. I kept reading about his deadbeat father over and over–and yes, he let them down over and over for years, but oh, so depressing. :) I haven’t seen the movie yet.

    *Bookfool – I had a few things I would have liked to say to Frank’s mother. One being–why didn’t she get a job a lot earlier (she did eventually as a caretaker) instead of smoking by the fire. BUT, there’s always that tricky problem with perspective–we are only allowed Frank’s version of the story? Am I being too generous?

    *Literary Feline – I believe the book was originally published in 96? I picked up my copy when the movie was coming out–probably in 99. I’m glad you thought positively about the movie. I held off (as I do often) on seeing the movie until I read the book. I guess now I can see it. Sorry to hear you didn’t like ‘Tis as much…

  16. trish-the way the speech meets were set up, we had different categories. My category was dramatic reading. I read the section of the book where the baby dies (towards the beginning I believe) and everyone in the family is in complete distress. That was my fresman year of high school and my introduction to public speaking. Through a great combination of me being really on that night, and the competition not being so hot, my second place medal (and the only time I won that year) was at the most important meet of the year.

  17. *Kim – ha ha! That could be any part of the book. :) I think I know where you are talking about, though. I always seem to form special connections with books that I have done projects on as well. Again, congrats on the medal!

  18. I don’t usually pick up a book like “Angela’s Ashes”. I did because my grandfather was Irish and I and doing genealogy on this side of my family. I thought it would be an interesting insight into an Irish family. I enjoyed it very much, although some of it was disturbing. I thought of my grandfather living that life and quite sad. All in all I enjoyed it very much.

    10 years later a book was recommended to me that reminds me of “Angels’a Ashes”. It’s an American version. It’s called, “A Place To Belong” by Paul Miller. The same type of story, a little boy lives a very rough life in very tough circumstances. It tells of how a young child can after 50 years learn understanding,compassion and most importantly forgiveness. I hope you will have a chance to read it. Don’t forget to bring the Kleenex!

    Thank you for the wonderful blog.

    Happy reading,

    Mary :>)

  19. Mary – thanks for the recommendation! I’m going to be signing up for a non-fiction challenge soon, so I’ve been looking for pics (possibly including McCourt’s follow-up “‘Tis”). Glad you could come by!