Monday, 23 November 2009

A Monk Swimming - Malachy McCourt

I realise that it's bad form to start any kind of review with words along the line of, "I loved the writing/music/art/work of so-and-so, so wondered if his brother/sister/mother/auntie was any good", etc. I shudder to think that anyone would compare what my brother and I do or have done simply because we happen to be related! However, in this instance, it's entirely true: Malachy McCourt made it onto my TBR list simply because I loved the series of three memoirs that his brother, Frank McCourt, wrote about his life growing up in the lanes of Limerick, Ireland, and everything that happened in the years afterwards. Angela's Ashes (1996) earned him a Pulitzer prize and left me feeling as though I knew the long-suffering McCourt family personally, such were the trials and tribulations we experienced together as I read all three of his memoirs. I was saddened to hear of Frank McCourt's death from melanoma in July 2009.

Brother Malachy McCourt's memoir is entitled A Monk Swimming (1998). Surely he wouldn't want to rehash he story that had already been told so aptly? What would his take on life be? And did it bear any resemblance to the story we have already come to know thanks to his brother's writing? It must be hard to try and carve out your own identity in a similar field to one's brother, who was awarded one of literature's top prizes for his efforts. 

A Monk Swimming is essentially an episodic memoir of tall tales which boasts an extensive vocabulary, both colloquial and otherwise, and incessant namedropping. It begins with McCourt's arrival in the US in his early 20s and follows him around New York and Europe. Occasionally humourous, I found it to be more an extended tale of a man suffering Peter Pan syndrome, whose fondness for the sweet nectar has resulted in an ongoing series of shenanigans and bratty behaviour, and left behind even more trouble for those around him to clean up. McCourt kind of acknowledges this in a roundabout way, but also sounds very proud of it, too. I'm not sure why that seems to bother me so much.

That McCourt enjoys the sound of his own voice is never in doubt; however, the verdict on the yarns he spins will ultimately be left to the individual reader to decide for themselves.

2 comments:

anothercookiecrumbles said...

This sounds quite interesting, albeit self-indulgent. While I've read Angela's Ashes, I hadn't even heard of Frank McCourt's brother.

Oh well, I might end up skipping this one....

Genki said...

Hi, thanks for stopping by my blog and my commenting. I also had not heard that McCourt's brother had written a book. I might check it out anyway given that he's originally from the homeland and all!