Patrick Ross's Reviews > Angela's Ashes

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
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it was amazing
bookshelves: memoir

Wow. I mean, wow. I've resisted reading this book for years, because when a good friend read it a few years ago and I would ask her about it, she'd start to cry, and I'd say to myself, "Why would I want to read a book that would make me cry?" To borrow an expression from young Frank McCourt's Uncle Pa, I didn't give a fiddler's fart for books that would make me depressed when I had enough to be depressed about.

Now I'm sorry I waited so long to read it. This is truly a masterpiece of writing. I had to get past the fact that McCourt writes fully realized scenes of dialogue and action beginning before he was even born. Once I accepted that I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Yes, there are many, many sad moments in the book, heartbreaking moments of disease, death, emotional and physical abuse, and abandonment. But the narrator is engaging and eventually triumphs.

McCourt takes on a challenging writing task, writing in the first-person present tense (occasionally shifting to second tense with good effect) in the voice of the age he is at that time. That can become quite tedious in the hands of a mediocre writer. But McCourt manages to allow us to see far more than he sees, like the day of his First Communion, when we know the priest keeps laughing at his repeated confessions, one after the other, even though the narrator is unaware of the reaction he's causing.

His characters come to life, with each having their own distinctive voice. He puts you in Limerick, Ireland, a town I have visited as a tourist but never really saw, based on what I know now having read this book. He also opened my eyes to the good and the bad of Ireland and the Irish. I say that as someone with an Irish first name (I share the name of the most inspiring character in the book, thank goodness), who grew up with an Irish mother who never stopped singing the praises of Ireland while singing its songs. But she had never been to the Old Country, and was providing a picture of Ireland handed down from her immigrant grandfather. The people of Limerick place Ireland on a high shelf as well, but McCourt's story reveals how delusional their belief in their country and in their own virtue truly is. I will confess at times reading the book to being mortified and ashamed at my Irish blood, but all societies have their good and their bad. This book puts the Irish and the Irish experience in an honest but respectful perspective.

If I could level a criticism it would be that the book can read a bit slow at times. It's a long book--he seems stuck at age eleven for an eternity--but were I an editor with this book on my desk, I couldn't honestly say what I would cut. And by the time I was halfway through I kept reading, kept reading, and who doesn't like that in a book?
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Reading Progress

August 10, 2013 – Started Reading
August 10, 2013 – Shelved
August 25, 2013 – Shelved as: memoir
August 25, 2013 – Finished Reading

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