She sprang from the womb and waved to the crowd. Then smiled and took a bow. And so we first meet Venetia Kelly, the beguiling actress at the center of this new, spellbinding, and epic novel by Frank Delaney, the best-selling author of Ireland and Shannon.
January 1932: While Ireland roils in the run-up to the most important national election in the Republic's short history, Ben MacCarthy and his father watch a vagabond variety revue making a stop in the Irish countryside. After a two-hour kaleidoscope of low comedy, Shakespearean recitations, juggling, tumbling, and other entertainments, Ben's father, mesmerized by Venetia Kelly, the troupe's magnetic headliner, makes a fateful decision: to abandon his family and set off on the road with Miss Kelly and her caravan. Ben's mother, shattered by the desertion, exhorts "find him and bring him back", thereby sending the boy on a Homeric voyage into manhood, a quest that traverses the churning currents of Ireland's fractious society and splinters the MacCarthy family.
Interweaving historical figures including W. B. Yeats, and a host of unforgettable creations (King Kelly, Venetia's violent, Mephistophelean grandfather; Sarah Kelly, Venetia's mysterious, amoral mother; and even a truth-telling ventriloquists dummy named Blarney), Frank Delaney unfurls a splendid narrative that spans half the world and a tumultuous, eventful decade.
Teeming with intrigue, pathos, and humor, Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show explores two of Ireland's great national passions: theater and politics. Writing with his signature mastery and lyrical prose, Frank Delaney once again delivers an unforgettable story as big and boisterous as the people and events it chronicles.
Ben McCarthy is a grown man when he sits down to write about the year he was 18: the year he met Venetia Kelly. She was a beautiful 32-year-old woman headlining a stage act the titular entertainment in Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show who so enchanted Ben’s father that he left his wife, his son, and his farm to join the troupe. When Ben’s mother sends Ben out on the road to find his father and bring him home, the entire McCarthy family is drawn into the tangled history of Venetia Kelly, her mother Sarah, and her grandfather King. Author Frank Delaney narrates the story, in a rich, well-paced tone that hits all the story’s emotional notes and offers Ben a one-of-a-kind voice.
Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show is an expansive novel, filled with strong characters from well-meaning neighbors and ruthless criminals to shady politicians and men in love and set against the backdrop of Ireland’s politically tumultuous early ‘30s. As a narrator, Ben makes it clear from the start that he’s prone to digression (blame the Blarney Stone) and that his view of the events has been colored by age; as a reader, Delaney gives “Important Digressions” and “Unimportant Digressions” the same care and emotion he gives to the novel’s dramatic high points. Delaney might be best known for his detailed novels about the Emerald Isle which include the frankly named Shannon, Tipperary, and Ireland but he also spent much of his life working for the BBC, where he covered current events and art, and hosted his own talk show in the early 1980s. His gentle Irish accent and mellow timbre are a charming complement to the novel’s witty prose and clever asides, and he handles the bittersweet ending with the proper blend of resolution and hope. Blythe Copeland
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What a joy!
- California Vegan
A beautiful and poignant tale