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.