Agnes Browne (The Mammy Tie-in) (Agnes Browne Series)

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9780452281691: Agnes Browne (The Mammy Tie-in) (Agnes Browne Series)
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Now a major motion picture starring Anjelica Huston

"Mammy" is what Irish children call their mothers and The Mammy is Agnes Browne—a widow struggling to raise seven children in a North Dublin neighborhood in the 1960s. Popular Irish comedian Brendan O'Carroll chronicles the comic misadventures of this large and lively family with raw humor and great affection. Forced to be mother, father, and referee to her battling clan, the ever-resourceful Agnes Browne occasionally finds a spare moment to trade gossip and quips with her best pal Marion Monks (alias "The Kaiser") and even finds herself pursued by the amorous Frenchman who runs the local pizza parlor.

Like the novels of Roddy Doyle, The Mammy features pitch-perfect dialogue, lightning wit, and a host of colorful characters. Earthy and exuberant, the novel brilliantly captures the brash energy and cheerful irreverence of working-class Irish life.

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Review:

It seems like there's no end to Irish tales depicting unhappy, squalid childhoods in crowded, working-class flats. While Brendan O'Carroll's The Mammy maintains many elements of the traditional genre--the saintly, overworked mother, the Catholic family with an enormous posse of children and any number of abusive alcoholic fathers--it's a somewhat cheerier vision of Irish youth than we've come to expect. The mammy in question, one Agnes Browne, has enough spunk to look after her brood of seven, run a fruit stand at the local open market, gossip viciously with her best friend Marion, and still daydream about dancing with a famous singer.

This is in large part due to the fact that her husband, Redser, who falls squarely into the above-mentioned category, has died--thanks to a careless driver--just before the novel's opening pages. Our first glimpse of the pragmatic, lovable Agnes comes as she's waiting in the social services office on the afternoon of his death, determined not to lose a penny of her widow's benefits as a result of dilly-dallying. She doesn't even have the necessary death certificate yet, but that's not nearly enough to slow down Agnes Brown: "No, love, he's definitely dead. Definitely," she says to the clerk, then, turning to her friend for backup, "Isn't he, Marion?" Marion, made from the same tough stock, agrees solemnly: "Absolutely. I know him years, and I've never seen him look so bad. Dead, definitely dead!" The scene is emblematic: Agnes knows how to fight, and she isn't afraid to do it. Her deadpan humor becomes a hallmark.

As for her children, they get into the usual trouble--fights, girl problems, and the like. But there are also some charming, unexpected episodes in the book. For example, Agnes's oldest child meets a Jewish man and performs small tasks for him on the Sabbath, which eventually leads to greater goods. Among other things, Mark learns about the Jewish faith, new knowledge he accepts with bemusement and some of his mother's innocence and good humor. Upon hearing that the man doesn't celebrate Christmas, he exclaims: "Will yeh go on outta that! How can yeh not believe in something when it's real?"

The book is not without its share of tragedy, but Agnes takes it all with aplomb. She's clearly the glue that binds her pack of youngsters together: "The rule in the Browne family was: 'You hit one, you hit seven.' Since March twenty-ninth and Redser's demise, little had changed in the Browne house. If anything, the house was less tense." The Mammy is a slight book--it tells the simple, fairly conventional tale of a single Irish family--but it makes up for its gaps with humanity, in the same way Agnes Browne makes up for what she and her children lack. --Melanie Rehak

About the Author:

Brendan O'Carroll, the youngest of eleven children, was born in Stonybatter, a North Dublin neighborhood, in 1955. He is an acclaimed playwright and Ireland's most popular stand-up comedian. The creator of a hugely successful Irish radio show, Mrs. Browne's Boys (the genesis of his novels), O'Carroll is also an actor and has a role in the upcoming film version of Angela's Ashes. All the books in his Mrs. Browne trilogy were #1 bestsellers in his native Ireland. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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