Vale Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt, 2007 (Photo by David Shankbone, used under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

Frank McCourt, 2007 (Photo by David Shankbone, used under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

I’ve only read one of Frank McCourt’s books, his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, Angela’s ashes. I loved it, but for some reason didn’t really feel the need to read more, though I’m sure I would have enjoyed them if I had!

Angela’s ashes was such a visceral read. I’ve never read quite such a vivid description of poverty as I found in this book. I know there are some who claim that he exaggerated it but who cares? My sense is that what he described was “real” – real either because it “really” did happen that way or because it genuinely conveyed what deep poverty “feels” like. And, the fact that he could describe such poverty in a way that could make you laugh and cry at the same time marked him out as a true storyteller. One of the, little really, scenes I remember is when he was in hospital and isolated in a ward on his own. The nurse wouldn’t let him talk to the equally lonely and isolated girl in the ward next door. The nurse would yell out to them, “Diphtheria can’t talk to Typhoid” (or vice versa). Oh dear! Just as well he had a sense of humour I reckon.

I saw the film, too, of course. As I recollect it was true to the facts but it somehow managed to convey the grimness without the accompanying humour. That was a shame really.

Anyhow, now McCourt has died. I’m sure his death will result in a resurgence of interest in his books. Commercial, yes, but why should new readers not have his books brought to their attention? There are far worse books they could be reading! Just ask Tom Keneally, who knew McCourt and was interviewed on the radio today. He said :

He is the only man I’ve known who in his mid-60s went from a school teacher pension to being a multi-millionaire and also remaining the same bloke he’d been before it all happened to him. The same whimsical, ironic, very Australian sense of humour he had. …

In the first paragraph [of Angela’s ashes] he mentions the fact that in Limerick the churches were full but he says that was because it rained all the time. It was not piety but hypothermia that filled the benches and I think you would have to search a long way back into Irish history to find such a funny line as that.

I am missing him even now. I have to say starting, as old men do, to get teary that such a grand spirit has departed this earth …

2 thoughts on “Vale Frank McCourt

  1. The first author of what’s been called “misery memoirs” and what my local bookseller stores on a shelf titled “tragic childhoods”. Alas, too many Irish children have had much to feel bad about judging by the thousands now claiming compensation from the Catholic Church

  2. LOL Tom, I didn’t really realise that’s what they were called – but, my husband often comments on my attraction to misery movies. “Tragic childhoods” – I like it. Well, the description, not the fact that they have happened!

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