Fourth Estate, £18.99
Having written about the trials and tribulations of his Limerick upbringing in 'Angela's Ashes' and followed it up with 'Tis', Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt turns his attentions to his long and successful New York teaching career in 'Teacher Man'. He takes the reader on a fascinating, colourful and descriptive 30-year journey from his beginnings at the McKee Vocational and Technical High School right through to his last day at Stuyvesant High School.
For those who enjoyed McCourt's earlier works, there is a wonderful, though brief, trip back in time to that dark and dreary Limerick childhood detailing events when he was younger and just before he left for America. He recounts the story that his mother often told, of a woman stepping out of a motorcar outside Todd's on O'Connell Street and offering to buy his brother Malachy.
Later, he describes the books he read and the clothes he wore, which help paint a picture of the character of the young man that he was before his life-changing trip across the Atlantic. There were different challenges in America and McCourt portrays in descriptive prose the difficulties that he encountered from the very start of his Stateside life and career.
McCourt's descriptions of the typical American teenager are spot on. He lists them: the jock, the mammy's boy, the critic, the clown, the volunteer for everything. The language he uses to illustrate how they speak brings them to life. The reader's mind conjures up images of 'Happy Days', 'West Side Story' and 'Grease'. You can begin to believe in these people and picture them with clarity. His teaching methods were new to the students and you can sense their slight initial mistrust of this 'mick'. Although American, the pupils but come from different ethnic backgrounds. It's clear that McCourt learnt as much from them as they did from him.
McCourt's skill is in keeping the reader's attention with an endless number of anecdotes, often fanciful, and occasionally hard to fully believe. He recalls in vivid form many entertaining stories including the hilarious reasons why he was nearly fired on his very first day of school for eating a student's sandwich.
He also mentions a brief return to Dublin in mid-career which features a personal adventure with a woman that somehow seems out of place with the rest of the book.
Apart from that minor diversion, 'Teacher Man' is highly recommended. McCourt's narrative progresses along at a good pace and the reader is kept entertained. Writing about personal experience is the easiest form of writing. McCourt is clearly a master.