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.

In short he’s the stage Irishman at his very worst, and the martyred Angela, who puts up with him for so many years, is nearly as infuriating, in spite of the fact that she contrives, admirably, to keep her family together.

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...


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