Mac and Pam had checked out the Angela’s Ashes DVD from the public library so I borrowed it the other day. When I started to watch it, however, I was angered by the gloss of the adaptation. The small segment that I saw gave short shrift to the beginning of the story. And stylistically, the film had a sheen, a lack of authenticity, seemed to be portraying the Hollywood version of the poor in 1930s Ireland instead of the poor as they actually existed. (Hell, we poor 1970s Oregonians had worse conditions than the film’s poor 1930s Irish!)
I stopped the film, ripped it to my hard drive for later viewing, and from my bookshelf I took the book upon which the film was based.
This book is a fine piece of work, destined to become a classic. This is only the second time that I’ve read it and I regret that it’s taken me five years to return to it.
Here is the second paragraph (which, by all rights, ought to be the first paragraph), the best-known passage from the book:
When I look back on my childhood 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.
That paragraph is an apt summary of the book’s plot, but cannot begin to do justice to the range and degree of poverty that the author, Frank McCourt, experiences during his childhood.
Here is another great passage (and yet another will follow tomorrow):
Paddy Clohessy has no shoe on his foot, his mother shaves his head to keep the lice away, his eyes are red, his nose always snotty. The sores on his kneecaps never heal because he picks the scabs and puts them in his mouth. His clothes are rags he has to share with his six brothers and a sister and when he comes to school with a bloody nose or a black eye you know he had to fight over the clothes that morning. He hates school. He’s seven going on eight, the biggest and oldest boy in the class, and he can’t wait to grow up and join the English army and go to India where it’s nice and warm and he’ll live in a tent with a dark girl with the red dot on her forehead and he’ll be lying there eating figs, that’s what they eat in India, figs, and she’ll cook the curry day and night and plonk on a ukelele and when he has enough money he’ll send for the whole family and they’ll all live in the tent especially his poor father who’s at home coughing up great gobs of blood because of the consumption. When my mother sees Paddy on the street she says, Wisha, look at that poor child. He’s a skeleton with rags and if they were making a film about the famine they’d surely put him in the middle of it.
I think Paddy likes me because of the raisin and I feel a bit guilty because I wasn’t that generous in the first place. The master, Mr. Benson, said the government was going to give us the free lunch so we wouldn’t be going home in the freezing weather. He led us down to a cold room in the dungeons of Leamy’s School where the charwoman, Nellie Ahearn, was handing out the half pint of milk and the raisin bun. The milk was frozen in the bottles and we had to melt it between our thighs. The boys joked and said the bottles would freeze our things off and the master roared, Any more of that talk and I’ll warm the bottles on the backs of yeer heads. We all searched our raisin buns for a raisin but Nellie said they must have forgotten to put them in and she’d inquire form the man who delivered. We searched again every day till at last I found a raisin in my bun and held it up. The boys started grousing and said they wanted a raisin and Nellie said it wasn’t her fault. She’d ask the man again. Now the boys were begging me for the raisin and offering me everything, a slug of their milk, a pencil, a comic book. Toby Mackey said I could have his sister and Mr. Benson heard him and took him out to the hallway and knocked him around till he howled. I wanted the raisin for myself but I saw Paddy Clohessy standing in the corner with no shoes and the room was freezing and he was shivering like a dog that had been kicked and I always felt sad over kicked dogs so I walked over and gave Paddy the raisin because I didn’t know what else to do and all the boys yelled that I was a fool and a feckin’ eejit and I’d regret the day and after I handed the raisin to Paddy I longed for it but it was too late now because he pushed it right into his mouth and gulped it and looked at me and said nothing and I said in my head what kind of an eejit are you to be giving away your raisin.
Mr. Benson gave me a look and said nothing and Nellie Ahearn said, You’re a great oul’ Yankee, Frankie.