Spoil "Angela's Ashes" 4 me...

Can someone summarize “Angela’s Ashes” for me? Also, please state if you saw the movie, read the book, or both?

  • Jinx

I’ve got the book (as well as the subsequent `Tis) and have seen the movie.

I suppose you could summarize it best by using the quotable Mr Cranky:

Poor Frankie McCourt grew up in Limerick. It sucked. He came to America. As he sails into the harbor, the book ends. It’s like, y’know, deep and shit.

(In all seriousness, it was a very intriguing book, and is worth reading. If this is an attempt to avoid schoolwork, you’re cheating yourself.)

In a nutshell?

Dirt poor. Dad’s a drunk. Spends all the money on “the drink”. Tons of kids in the family, bunch of them die. Move to America. The end.

It was actually really good though. Both the movie and the book. I read/saw both.

Open the book, get bummed out, stay bummed out but keep reading, finish the book and then have a hard time explaining to people why you so liked a book that was such a huge downer from start to finish.

Plot of “Angela’s Ashes”: An Irish-American family moves from New York back to Limerick. Then…

  1. Family has no money, so must live in dirty, filthy, flea-infested, cold, dank slum. Kids are sick and hungry, and young Frank blames it all on the Catholic Church.

  2. Dad gets a job at some local factory.

  3. Family gets excited, thinking “Now that Dad has a job, we’ll have enough money to buy food, and maybe move to a nicer apartment.”

  4. On Friday, Dad takes first paycheck, spends it all on booze, and doesn’t show up at work on Monday.

  5. Dad gets fired.

  6. Go back to #2, and repeat whole process.

I always thought of it this way:

Just when you don’t think it can get any worse … it does.

(I saw the movie) - And, hell, I just may go rent it again today. It never fails to cheer me up. No matter how crappy things are going for me, I can at least be consoled that I don’t live in an Irish slum at the turn of the century.

The McCourts didn’t live at the turn of the century (the last one). It was more like the 1930s. He returned to America in 1949 and this is where 'Tis picks up, which I liked a lot the first time I read (as you can see from this review). I think I was just so desperate to find out what happened to Frankie. The second time I read it, though, I was a little bored by his self-absorption. But it’s his life after all; that was my initial point.

Anyway, Angela’s Ashes is incredible because it presents his life from a child’s point of view. It’s profoundly sad but also one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. You can’t help but be moved by it. You learn what “wanker” means. It’s a good all-purpose book. :wink:

You left out the part where Frank falls in love (lust) and then she dies.

The book, “Angela’s Ashes”, was a great read because it interspersed the abject poverty, illness, misery, etc., with a wry, ironic humor. The book, “'Tis”, was not a great read because the wry, ironic humor was missing, replaced with an angry, “I deserved better” tone.

I read the book. Loved it. I thought it was hysterical and very tragic. Angela, the mother, was my favorite character.

Saw the book. Thought it was okay but usually hate movies in general. My former roommate had never read the book but LOVED the movie. Again, Angela was my favorite character.

Didn’t like 'Tis. 'Twasn’t interesting to me.

Angela was your favorite character, SaxFace? I could barely stand her – and I you’d think I’d have more sympathy for a female character. I thought she was too stupid to live.

Her own mother says she’s too dumb to be a maid. Then she leaves the United States with a husband who’s also dumb as a box of rocks (knee-trembler or not) on the eve of the introduction of massive social programs that probably could have saved the family, whether or not Frank Sr. could be forced to work. Exhausted for not, how could she let a 4-year-old watch a 2-year-old in a cement playground. And on and on.

I could muster some sympathy for her when she had to compromise herself with Cousin Layman (Lyman?) in order to keep a roof over their heads. After all, women had few choices in those days and got forced into things like that all the time. She seemed more of a blameless victim in that case, is what I’m trying to say. Most of the time, though, I thought if she’d had even one ounce of sense, she could have spared that family a whole lot of misery.

What annoyed me (not outraged, annoyed) me most in “Angela’s Ashes” was Frank McCourt’s dogged insistence that the Catholic Church was responsible for his family’s misery.

Look, devout Catholic though I am, I understand that not everybody buys what the Church teaches. If McCourt simply reached adulthood and found that he just couldn’t put any stock in Christianity, I’d be disappointed, but I’d understand.

Or, if Irish poverty could be traced directly to a greedy, rapacious Church stealing away all its people’s money, again, I could understand why McCourt would hold such a bitter grudge.

But in reality, the misery of the McCourt family can be laid at the feet of one man: Frank McCourt’s drunken, worthless bum of a father! And yet, shockingly, it’s only too clear that Frank still has a soft spot in his heart for the old man!

Look, Ireland was a poor country in the 1930s, and life for any Irish family was bound to be hard. A blue-collar family in Limerick at that time was bound to live in poverty- but it didn’t HAVE to live in squalor! Even in those hard times, there WERE jobs to be had. The elder McCourt found decent-paying jobs on a regular basis- he just lost them quickly, because of his selfishness, stupidity, and devotion to the bottle.

But to read McCourt’s account, you’d think that the Pope was coming around every night, tying down his father, and pouring beer down his throat.

IMO the best part was when Frankie had his first communion, then got sick and puked up God in his (grandma’s?) backyard. His grandma hauled him off to church and tried to bully the priest into blessing her backyard or some such.

I found the book entertaining, the movie less so. Really disliked Tis. The first book ended on an uplifting note - this kid survived this horrendous childhood and made it to America with a host of possibilities before him. Then you read the sequel and find out he turned out to be quite a mediocre asshole.

There are a hell of a lot of people in Ireland who think Frank McCourt pretty much made the whole thing up.

My Nan was born in Ireland in 1931. She grew up in a poor family in Limerick. So in theory Angela’s Ashes ought to represent her experiences.

Except that it doesn’t. She is outraged at the film. She says that it has no bearing on reality whatsoever. It seems that it is just McCourt taking advantage of popular perception to make money.

Enjoy it as a tale of woe if you must, but don’t for a moment think that it represents anything to do with the truth.


Interesting tidbit- I am NOT going to say that “Angela’s Ashes” was inaccurate, or that Frank McCourt exaggerated the squalor he grew up in.


Ireland today is NOTHING like the Ireland he grew up in, and Limerick has changed, too. Ireland today is very prosperous. Visitors are amazed at how much growth and new construction there is, everywhere you go.

And so, when Alan Parker and his crew went to Limerick to make the movie version, they found, to their chagrin, that there weren’t ANY slums left in Limerick in which to do the filming! Parker had to hire a large crew of builders and set dressers to CREATE a filthy tenement in downtown Limerick, where the film could be shot!

No one was more amused than McCourt, who noted that he’d always dreamed of destroying the slums he grew up in, but that instead, he was indirectly responsible for RESTORING the slums he grew up in!

I read one time that the book can be viewed as the distilled, refined versions of the stories Frank and Malachy told for years in the Irish bars of New York. These stories were polished in these years of retelling. If you take this view, naturally the most popular elements of the story – those that got the best response from the bar patrons – were honed to derive the maximum impact. Other, perhaps more truthful portions, were gradually omitted as the years wore on.

Regarding the Catholic Church – I too am Catholic and didn’t really see his grumblings as laying the McCourt family problems at its feet. The Church is an ingrained part of society in Ireland, whether you’re particularly religious or not. It’s as much a part of growing up as the corner store where Frank begged candy. It couldn’t help but exert an influence on his life which was, as we know, miserable at every turn. As I’ve said before, the family was inept. Probably if they’d mustered a modicum of faith, the church would have responded in kind. As it was, they were essentially amoral who saw the church as just another source of a handout. His “right” to be an altar boy wasn’t some certainity.

Also astorian, I’d say it’s pretty clear that the father is to blame for the family’s troubles. Frank is clear about his inability to hold a job and the borderline-abusive way he’d get the boys up and make them sing in the middle of the night. His “affection” for him is another function of the refined-joke theory: Dad’s behavior was truly reprehensible, but my what a story it makes!

Regarding the slums of Limerick. Of course Ireland today would deny that sort of slum existed. Who would want to admit allowing children to go to school barefoot, permitting people to die of TB in the damp overlooking the River Shannon? On the other hand, the lane where the McCourts lived didn’t seem all that fetid to me. The particular hovel they lived in, yes, with the toilet next door. But remember how Frank was always talking about smelling the good cooking smells from neighboring houses? The fathers there sending home checks? I say we just get the impression the rest of the place was as dismal as his own.

I can do this one.

At the end, he’s still Irish.

Schoolwork? Ha! That’ll be the day an educational system selects a real-life story, such as this, as an assignment -whether it is biographical or just true-to-life fiction.

I don’t understand how an educational system can TELL one what to read…let alone TELL one how to interpret the author’s meaning. Ultimately, the subject matter has to be of interest to the reader. I think the schools should give kids a selection of books from which to choose (and a good English teacher should have read a wide specturm, anyway.)

OTOH, you could argue it makes one more well-rounded by reading from a cross-section of literature. But, the manner in which it is shoved down the kids’ throats makes reading so tasteless…sure took away my appetite for reading anything until much later in life.

  • Jinx

Ellen wrote:

Ha! I know what you’re saying but I guess I don’t always like the reasonable, intelligent and perfectly moral characters. She was my favorite not because I liked her (even though I did) but because she seemed really real to me. Her desperation, sadness and anger really affected me.

I’m sure all parts of the story aren’t real but I’d bet most of it is based on truth. My parents lived in DP camps in Germany after World War II and from what they (and my grandparents) have told me, the conditions in McCourt’s Limerick were far better.