Angela Paquin's Reviews > Angela's Ashes

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
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Aug 22, 07

bookshelves: haveread
Read in September, 1997

It's been ten years since I've read this book. Like everyone else I was floored by it when it first came out. But time and age have made me wiser.

I don't think it's stood the test of time and the more I think of it... my grandmother is right. It's a one-sided, depressing view of life in Ireland.

"Woah is me..." is the book in a nutshell. This book simply has you marinate in negativity. Maybe I've read too much Phillip Roth in the meantime and compared to his characters this book seems too whiny and annoying.

I read masterieces like the Grapes of Wrath or As I Lay Dying and they still ring true. This? Not so much.

You want to know about Ireland:

read the series of books starting with The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan.

"In 1798, Irish patriots, committed to freeing their country from England, landed with a company of French troops in County Mayo, in westernmost Ireland. They were supposed to be an advance guard, followed by other French ships with the leader of the rebellion, Wolfe Tone. Briefly they triumphed, raising hopes among the impoverished local peasantry (our ancestors) and gathering a group of supporters (wouldn't be suprised if one of them fought...) But before long the insurgency collapsed in the face of a brutal English counterattack.

Very few books succeed in registering the sudden terrible impact of historical events; Thomas Flanagan's is one. Subtly conceived, masterfully paced, with a wide and memorable cast of characters, The Year of the French brings to life peasants and landlords, Protestants and Catholics, along with old and abiding questions of secular and religious commitments, empire, occupation, and rebellion. It is quite simply a great historical novel."

or James Joyce's The Dubliners or Ulysses...

or Sean O'Casey The Plough & the Stars

or William Inge's Playboy of the Western World

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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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Sonia Reppe Why are you comparing this with a historical novel? Don't you think you should compare it with other memoirs? Also, I don't think the book is all negativity, as you say, because McCourt writes about the love he has for his father, even though his father lead the family into poverty.


Angela Paquin It's been ten years and frankly looking back on this book, it doesn't ring well with me now. Let some time pass between you and this book and you'll get my point - Who needs to marinate in all of that negativity? Further it's not drama, it's not real tragedy... it's melodramatic soap opera.

We all know the difference between memoir and historical novels. Remember that a memoir is the author's primary account of history around him. Unfortunately, this book adds nothing of any value and for the people who would like to know how it was with a primary account of history... all you get is selfish drivel of "poor me, look how hard my life was, I came to America and it's not much better for me." Who needs that crap? His own brother Malachi doesn't agree with him about how things were and said his brother has always been morose.

The book came out ten years ago, in some school districts it's taught as a "great novel of the Western World". I don't find it that great. I think some educator wanted to say "Hey everyone, a teacher can be a famous author too..." Eventually this book will fall off the list of required readings.

I'm currently taking a graduate class on James Joyce. He's an author who truly gives you a real perspective on life in Ireland. In real life his father lead his family into poverty as well. He adds this to Portrait of the Artist but we don't get how negative life was for him through his fictional characters. Many say Stephen Dedalus is actually the voice of Joyce...

Maybe that's the difference between a great writer and a mediocre one... A great writer can write about the beauty in the world and a mediocre can only focus on the negative.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Angela --

This person seems to have something against anyone who dared to dislike AA....she left a VERY immmature and unkind comment on my review. (Yours is far more intelligent, I meant mine to be humourous, as I'm a humour writer.) Gosh, the audacity of people not to like a book that a lot of other people love, and say so! How dare we?

Anyway, I absolutely agree. As you, and others have already said, there are MANY more Irish writers/playrights (Joyce, O'Neill, Friel, etc) who portray the Irish in a much more realistic, interesting, and intelligent light, as opposed to McCourt's snivling whining, reinforcing every negative (and untrue) stereotype of the Irish, and Irish immigrants, something we have been fighting againt practically since the beginning of time ...even now, I've run into many people who still subscribe to the "No Irish Need Apply" school of thought. How could any true Irishman go out of his way to ram all of that rubbish down the reader's throat?

On top of that, the book isn't even well-written -- it clearly was written (or edited) into, a "Hey, I'm gonna be a best-seller" lightweight quick-read piece of fluff, not something of any true and lasting literary value. I certainly felt that I had been suckered into reading it, the press on it had been so good -- time and money I won't get back. My copy has been donated to the library.

AA is required reading in some schools? That's appalling...in the memoir/autobiography/immigrant-to-America/cultural history genre, there are so many more interesting and better written books.


Angela Paquin Thanks Honore!

AA is taught in some schools and it is listed right along with Faulkner, Melville and Hawthorne. Some districts have replaced Portrait of the Artist with AA. Can you imagine that? Talk about the dumbing down of the American high school student!

I can understand a recent book like Yellow Raft in Blue Water as a great work of art but AA?

There's no poetry. There's nothing of any value. I could write a memoir of more wit and vigor than that piece of fluff.

Eugene O'Neill happens to be my favorite playwright. AA doesn't even come close to the the semi-autobiographical, pathos of Long Day's Journey Into Night. A masterpiece to the nth degree. I must have read that play fifteen years ago for the first time, and I still say, "Yes, amen! You tell 'em Gene!" He wanted it published twenty five years after his death. His past was that painful and he was so ashamed of it. He hid it from view all of his life.

Frank McCourt cashed in on his sad past and made a quick buck.

Again you can see the difference between a Nobel Laureate and cheap paperback author.


Sonia Reppe Did anyone see the play about Irish immigrants that McCourt wrote? I saw it eight years ago, and I liked it, but it's too far away in my memory to critique it, like, I can't say if it was negative or not. Just wondering if anyone saw it and what they thought of it?


Matthew Khoury Wow. How was this one sided???


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Hey Angela,

I agree with you in that it is not a great classic novel. And perhaps McCourt "cashed in" on his sad past; I'm not really interested in whether or not that happened, since most (arguably all) art is a reaction to experience and it's a deep debate to get into. However, I really enjoyed this book, and your review makes me feel like that makes me an idiot. This is a novel-- memoir or not-- and it was written to entertain, not educate. I hope people don't read it as a history lesson on Ireland. It made me sad and it made me laugh, and I still remember many images from it despite how long ago I read it.

Please understand that I am not critiquing you or arguing against your opinion-- I just thought I would share. After reading your review, I felt the need to defend myself a bit.

:)

Anyways, take care!


Dustin Allison Okay, so I recently finished Angela's Ashes and was truly amazed to find so many negative reviews on this site. Basically, most seem to be dissatisfied with McCourt's rendering of Ireland. But in my mind, those who think this book is essentially about Ireland are missing what AA has to offer.

This book is not about Ireland, it's about poverty, class, drug abuse, religion, death, the lack of birth control, and so on. It could take place any where, and those that read memoirs/biographies know that McCourt's story is not all that unique. Moreover, one guys horrible childhood doesn't indict a whole country even IF it was intended to.

For me, the value in AA resides in what it tells us about being human. If you want historical data about Ireland, memoirs have some value but only after you have a solid foundation in the history, and even then the value is a lessor one.

If you're upset becuase it makes the Irish look bad, I think you should take a long look at your motives, or just substitute Ireland and Irish for Russia and Russian, or America and American throughout the book and thus find the value--hopefully...


message 9: by Adrianna (last edited Dec 18, 2008 01:55AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Adrianna Angela wrote: "Thanks Honore!

...Frank McCourt cashed in on his sad past and made a quick buck...


I think that's an excessive comment. He's not taking advantage of someone else's hardships (ie: True Crime) If he figured out how to make money based on his childhood experiences, all the more power to him.

He certainly presented a specific angle in the book and that's the point of writing. I really couldn't get into the book as much as I expected to and I still haven't picked it up since the summer. With that said, I don't think he presents a one dimensional view of Ireland. He presents the poverty he experienced - bare in mind that two of his siblings died while he was growing up.


message 10: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I think you mean "WOE is me", not "WOAH is me." :)



message 11: by Nina (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nina It's been a while since I read this book but I remember it as a memoir, it was sad the poverty, alcoholism, but Frank M, was no cry baby, but a survivor, with a sweet heart for his mom, Angela. I don't get the woe or woah part, it is not applicable.


message 12: by Jan (new) - rated it 1 star

Jan I only read this book because an english friend insisted, should have stuck to my guns, depressing drivel, did the world need to know how mant times he masturbated and where? I also find it hard to believe his mother paid for Irish dancing lessons when they were starving! Only laugh i got was explaining the wigs on the green reference to all the English ladies in my book club, it was a favourite saying of my mothers, would never read another one of his books, lifes too short.


Andrea I think you mean "woe is me." The book is sad but grammatically correct.


Paulm mixing genres in a review? ok....whatever.


 Claire "if you want to know about Ireland, read such and such a book"...? or maybe you could ask an actual Irish person? They do exist you know. And this is by no way a biased view of Limerick back then, this is a 100% completely honest view of Limerick back then. maybe for rich people it was different, but for the middle and lower class, it was pretty bad. Don't ppretend you know what Ireland was like if you're not Irish. I wasnt there, but my grandparents and my great grandparents were there, it actually happened. This book is a first hand, honest view of Limerick. Its not fiction. (and dont say you're 8th cousin is Irish, that doesn't make you Irish, I hate when people do that) :/


Jennifer Pavlich-crompton This book isn't about Ireland, it's about his life that happened to be in Ireland. I've been to Ireland and it is one of the loveliest places on earth filled with even lovelier people. ALL places have depressed periods in their history and ALL places have poor people living in them. If you can't see past what you think this book has to say about Ireland than I'm sorry you missed out on an amazing read.


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