Book Review: Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

I have been told by ‘snobs’ that there are two kinds of Irish: the Lace Curtain Irish and the Shanty Irish. If indeed that is true, then McCourt has done the Shanty Irish a disservice (or a service, as the case may be), by perpetuating their myth rooted in poverty, misery, and desperation. McCourt’s writing is beautiful, poignant, and fluid, but I cannot define this work as a memoir. It is too finely detailed for McCourt, as a much older gent, to capture himself as a young child, by recalling pages and pages of dialogue, the sights, scents, textures and sounds of life in a world gone mad. We do not hold onto reams of detailed information of what happened to us in childhood. Our brains do not work that way. Even the greatest writers cannot summon the past exactly as it happened—that’s why we have fiction, and that’s why fiction has the ability to convey a larger truth, precisely because many details are embellished and made up. Angela’s Ashes is a book of autobiographical fiction, where clearly many events and details might have been inspired from what really happened, but the finer details have been blatantly made up. From the perspective of great auto fiction, McCourt captures the truth: the thousand lamentations, countless beatings, and chronic drunkenness that was so prevalent in Irish culture among the dirt poor during the 1930s. While McCourt’s writing and rendering is often exquisite, there is undoubtedly a lot of blarney. For example, Frankie as a young lad is smelly, wears rags for clothes, has pus oozing out of his swollen red eyes, his teeth are rotting, and his face is covered with pimples. Yet, he has no trouble getting nice, pretty young girls to share in his ‘excitement.’ In Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt proves he was a gifted storyteller who spun a yarn.




Patricia Vaccarino

Patricia Vaccarino is an accomplished writer who has written award-winning film scripts, press materials, articles, essays, speeches, web content, marketing collateral, and ten books.

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