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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

Reviewed: December 17, 2008
By: written and read by Frank McCourt
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
, $69.00

I don’t return to a book very often in this column, but the unabridged audio version of Angela’s Ashes is worth a mention. We had the abridged four tape audio version and enjoyed it immensely, but when I went to listen to it again on a road trip last spring, the third tape broke and I could not splice it. Wanting to replace this excellent reading, I went online and managed to find the unabridged CD version second hand for somewhat less than that list price shown above here.

It’s a much longer production, about twice the length of the one I heard first, and the additional material makes sense of a number of little things that I had always wondered about when I heard the story before.

McCourt begins with these words: "Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood. Worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." Nearly everything he records in his memoir goes to reenforce that notion, and yet he also manages to coax laughter and a sense that the world can be made right somehow from the same material.

Residents of Limerick, Ireland, have complained that he is too hard on their city, but the part of it where he spent most of his childhood would not have given him much of the good to see. And in fairness to McCourt, he is as hard on himself as he is on everyone else, and he is often the butt of his own humour.

This comes across much more strongly in the full version of the book, where young Frankie punishes his own spirit constantly for his anger, his persistent and pernicious “self-abuse” and for all the ways in which he fails those around him.

This is a sad, funny and triumphant story and well worth a second visit. And by the way, it takes the better part of two trips to the city to hear it all.

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