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Angela's Ashes - A Memoir of a Childhood by Frank McCourt
Published by Harper Collins, 1996

Frank McCourt created a new genre of memoir when he wrote this book and its sequel ''Tis'.
As he elegantly states himself "I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood". Without doubt growing up in Ireland in the Forties and Fifties was not the most privileged of childhoods. Frank McCourt was raised in the back lanes of Limerick in an era of scarcity in Ireland. His family's poverty was accentuated by his father's alcoholism.

McCourt is a very good storyteller and has a marvelous facility for capturing the little personal foibles that make his characters come alive on the page. His description of the deaths of his siblings is depressingly realistic. The reader can feel the hopeless despair of the grief-stricken mother and her sullen anger and resentment of her alcoholic husband. However, this is not a totally gloomy read - the story is punctuated throughout with a biting, black humour that can have you laughing at heart-rending descriptions of misery and sadness.

It is McCourt's skill as a writer and his ability to bring to life the dismal, hypocritical mores of Limerick in the Forties and lay bare the cruelties that existed in the Ireland of the time, that brought the wrath of modern, comfortable middle-class Ireland down round his head. Yes, he may have exaggerated and dramatized his story, but ask people of his vintage and they will admit that, yes indeed, Irish society at the time was cruel, divisive and judgemental. He finishes this part of his memoir on the Emigrant ship.

Reviewed by a Clare County Library staff member.