Frank McCourt opened his wildly successful memoir Angela’s Ashes with a passage that served as a sort of ironic disclaimer for the tale he was about to unfold:

People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred years.

And that is as good a description as any of the three-hundred-and-fifty pages that follow, right smack in the tradition of Sean O’Casey’s warts-and-all autobiography. The only item on this list that doesn’t show up in Angela’s Ashes is the pompous priests; in fact the priests young Frank comes in contact with tend to be rather humane. They are made up for, though, by the...

 
Introduce yourself to The New Criterion for the lowest price ever—and a receive an extra issue as thanks.
Popular Right Now