Frank McCourt

Oh dear – this is me about to show myself up to be illiterate and a bit of an inverted literary snob – at least I fear it may be. Please bear with me, and if you have ever read this autobiography, let me know what you think about the writing style.

I only came across Frank McCourt’s first acclaimed writing – Angela’s Ashes – by means of the film, and that is obviously a cheat. I found the film dreary and sad and not as uplifting as others thought. However, I picked up the book’s sequel – ‘Tis – at the Library Van and barely gave it a second glance as I placed it on the counter. If I had looked inside, something strange about the writing might have struck me and rung a warning bell. The whole book is written as a stream of consciousness, with never a hint of direct speech, but I had chosen the book and I was determined to give it a go. Perhaps I should have given up after the first 50 pages or so; that would certainly have saved me several days of frustration.

It was impossible for me to identify with the person writing; as far as I could see, Frank McCourt was immersed forever in the gloom and desperate sadness of his childhood. The book unfolds revealing his progress throughout his return to America, the country of his birth, but he constantly harps back to Limerick in Ireland, where he grew up. I felt like one of his failed students being forced to read a book which for me held little merit.

To be honest, my main objection is to its style. Perhaps he did too good a job of making me feel his pain and despair. But I like stories where effort is rewarded and a life is turned round. Sorry Mr McCourt, but the you speaking in the book is not someone I find attractive. You sound self-indulgent and whinging and for some reason you make me cross. Then again, it could be that this is the sign of so-called “good” literature, and that could explain why your first volume was awarded many prizes and accolades.

I haven’t looked up any reviews online, and now await the onslaughts from his fans. Bear in mind that I don’t like Hemingway’s style either; it is the direct opposite with lines and lines of direct speech with the odd descriptive sentence thrown in. I feel a bit of a pleb writing about someone of such recognised stature in these terms, but that’s what the blog is about – revealing myself quirks and all. It might show how hard I find it to express dislike or conflict, being someone who is usually a conciliator. (It goes with the job!)

What am I missing – except perhaps a university degree in English or American literature?

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7 Responses to Frank McCourt

  1. Funny, I was thinking about McCourt this morning. My own childhood was cloudy at times, as was his, although I believe his brothers and mother dispute the accuracy of his tales. Dwelling in the past is a good way to turn your life into a pillar of salt (like you-know-who). I have been making an attempt to let the past go and smell the flowers around me, even if I have to buy a bunch at the grocery store. Too bad, Frank McCourt never seems to have been able to discover how to do that.

  2. Sheila says:

    Hey Freda! I enjoyed both his books. I have images in my mind from them, especially the first one. I always like a book that can make my brain act like it is watching a movie even if it is depressing. I will revisit them once I get home since they are sitting on my bookshelf there.
    Your reaction maybe speaks for the book. I agree, Mr. McCourt could have used a good kick in the $#%#!!

  3. RevRuth says:

    I loved Angela’s Ashes and eagerly bought Tis when it first came out. In fact, I may even have bought it in hardback, so desperate was I to read on. What a disappointment! Like you, I found the writing style awful and it was nothing like his first book. I don’t think I even finished it.

  4. Marcia Mayo says:

    I agree. I think Frank was a one hit wonder, but Angela’s Ashes was great. The ending was quite optimistic.

  5. Hi Freda,
    I liked ‘Angela’s Ashes’ when I first read it, but later when Frank’s mother and siblings said he had exaggerated the awfulness of their situation in his books, I took another look, and did not even attempt to read ‘Tis.’

    The problem with recollection is that participants in past events don’t always agree on what happened, especially if something felt particularly awful to one party. When my sister and I attempt to reconstruct our childhood, we often find we remember different things and reach different conclusions. This is the ‘Rashomon’ effect.

  6. Thanks for the comments; interestingly I have been thinking about my own childhood as I have started to read the autobiography of Julie Walters. I had not heard of the Rashomon effect, though am familiar with different eye witness statements. What it has done is to stir my interest in writing an account of childhood for my grandchildren – but I shall have to try and steer clear of hyping things up for the sake of the story!

  7. Barbara says:

    I found Angela’s Ashes interesting, but a bit of a downer. ‘Tis was recommended to me, but I have not read it as yet. Perhaps that is a good thing! I may eventually read it anyway because he taught at McKee High School, a vocational high school with a pretty rough student body, on Staten Island where I grew up. The younger brother of my best friend had him for an English teacher.

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