Thursday, April 15, 2010

REVIEW: Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, by Frank Delaney

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, by Frank Delaney. Published 2010 by Random House. Literary Fiction.

I read this book courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

A long and rambling and colorful and wonderful novel about a father who runs away in pursuit of an actress, a son who journeys off to find him and the charismatic, scandalous and traitorous family behind it all, Frank Delaney's novel Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show is a bittersweet trip through 1930s Ireland- its highways and byways but most of all its countryside and its people, whose central mystery isn't even revealed until the end, and much less ever solved.

It's 1932, and Ben MacCarthy lives with his parents on a small farm. His parents have a happy marriage but his father becomes infatuated with Venetia Kelly, a beautiful traveling performer with a knack for ventriloquism. He abandons the family and Ben's mother sends him on a quest to find him. 1932 was a critical year in Ireland, the year of a crucial national election, and Ben's quest crosses his path not only with that of a flamboyant and powerful theatrical family but an ambitious, unscrupulous and possibly criminal would-be politician, Kelly family patriarch Thomas Aquinus "King" Kelly. What happens next will change all of their lives forever.


Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show is so much more than a family suspense story. Delaney mixes stories of love, personal redemption, ambition, friendship, murder, deception and tragedy with Irish legend, politics and history and throws in figures like Eamon de Valera and W.B. Yeats as supporting characters for good measure. He tells the story with charm and loquacity, employing frequent digressions and foreshadowing to reinforce his narrator's emotional state. It all comes together beautifully in the end, when he reveals why, and to whom, he's telling the story.

It's addictive, page-turning reading full of bluster and heartbreak, love and longing, humor and sadness. I'll admit it lagged a little for me in the middle; there was a lot of talk and it wasn't always clear where it was going, but Delaney has written a very Irish book in a very Irish style of storytelling enriched by the historical details, mythology and descriptions of theatrical life. I think a lot of different kinds of readers will enjoy Venetia Kelly; it's literary fiction for a summer's day with fascinating characters, a vivid setting and a strong narrative voice.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from LibraryThing.com.

11 comments:

Zibilee said...

I read Ireland a few years ago, and thought it was wonderful, and it sounds like this book was great as well. I think that Delaney has an unusual knack for telling stories, and I would very much like to try this book. This is the first review I have read on the book, and it was definitely enough to convince me that I need to read this. Thanks, Marie, for the beautiful review!

John A. Walsh said...

Sold! This sounds great-thanks for posting this review as I hadn't heard of the book at all.

Blodeuedd said...

Lovely review, sounds like a nice book, and if the rating is buy then that is good enough for me

Kristen M. said...

I was waiting to hear more about this one before adding it to my list. It sounds like a great read!

bermudaonion said...

I'm listening to the audio version of this right now and I have to tell you, Frank Delaney's voice is as captivating as the story.

nomadreader said...

I had very little interest in this novel until I heard him speak at the Empire State Book Festival last weekend. He was captivating, and his description of how he conducts research to be as historically accurate as possible was inspiring. I'm glad to hear the book was wonderful. I'm hoping to read it soon!

booksslicedanddiced said...

I find that I always love IndieBound books. This one sounds really interesting - unique story framed by a traditional story of a family.

Diane said...

Yay Marie, what high praise for this book. (I've read several other good reviews as well). I hope to get to this sooner than later. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

Pam said...

This book has been on my radar for awhile now. The main story seems compelling, but the part about Irish history and politics always turns me off. Your review has me curious again, though. I'll have to give this one a try.

Booksnyc said...

I am glad you liked this one too - I loved it! Great review!

Serena said...

I really enjoyed this novel....