Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review: Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney

Venetia Kelly's story became my story too; it determined the direction I would take at one time, and has controlled how I've lived ever since.  I can't say whether I might have had a different life if I'd never met her, but such has been her impact that I've never looked for anything else.  In other words, the existence that I lead keeps me as close to her as I can get under the circumstances.  (from Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, page 4)

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show takes place in 1932 in Ireland, which is gearing up for what is called the most important election in its history as a free state.  Politics is a hot topic in the home of Ben MacCarthy, but the election takes a backseat to family problems when his father runs away to follow a traveling variety show starring the beautiful actress Venetia Kelly, who recites poetry and Shakespeare plays and is the voice of the ventriloquist dummy and "political candidate" Blarney.  Ben's mother, devastated by her husband's abandonment and concerned about losing their farm, tells 18-year-old Ben that he must find his father and bring him home, which proves easier said than done.

Frank Delaney's lyrical prose drew me in from the first page, though the story takes awhile to really take off.  Delaney spends the first 70 pages introducing the principal players from the first person point of view of Ben.  In addition to Ben's parents and the magnetic Venetia, readers meet, among others, King Kelly, Venetia's ruthless grandfather; Sarah Kelly, Venetia's equally captivating mother; and James Clare, a storyteller who serves as a father figure to Ben.  Delaney takes his time building the story, but it never once drags.  He uses vivid imagery and beautiful language to bring his characters to life, and he says so much about who they are in so few words.  Take King Kelly, for instance:
Those who knew him -- including myself -- we admitted that we enjoyed King Kelly.  There was guilt in the admission, but there was also pleasure.  He was a gale of good company, and not a word from his mouth could be believed.  He had a rich voice, full of Irish and with some American, and no better dinner companion have I known.  But he was as crooked as a ram's horn; if King Kelly said he'd pray for you, you'd be sure of Hell.  (pages 18-19)
Once the real action begins, when Ben's father abandons his family to join Venetia Kelly's traveling show and Ben is sent to bring him home, the book becomes hard to put down.  Ben's frequent digressions, along with telling the reader to remember a particular event or character that would play an important role in the events to come, took a little getting used to, but it soon became clear that these are the defining characteristics of Ben's storytelling style.

Eccentric characters, asides about Irish history and politics, family drama, literary culture, a coming-of-age story -- Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show has it all.  I don't want to say any more about the plot because Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show is one of those books that takes you on a journey, and you just have to go with the flow.  I had no idea where Delaney was taking me, but I truly enjoyed the ride.  Delaney is a talented storyteller and a master at pacing, giving only what information is necessary at the time.  Seeing how all the pieces fit together by the end makes it all worthwhile.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show from Interpersonal Frequency LLC for review purposes.  I am an Amazon affiliate.

© 2010, Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce content without permission.


Booksnyc said...

I loved this one too! Delaney is a talented storyteller!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Great review Anna; sounds fabulous --love quirky characters!

Serena said...

I really enjoyed this novel. I'm glad that you enjoyed it too.

Mary (Bookfan) said...

Nice review, Anna. Adding it to my tbr list :)

bermudaonion said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! I won the audio version from Serena and I'm anxious for it to get here now!

S. Krishna said...

For some reason, the description of this one didn't draw me in, but yours is the second great review I've seen of this book. I'll have to check it out!

Veens said...

Wow.. this is the 2nd review now, and I so want to read this as well!

Tribute Books said...

good review! will go on my to read list.thanks!

Staci said...

I like journeys so this one may be a winner for me!

Suko said...

What a cover on this one, Anna! And the contents sound riveting. Thanks for a tempting review.

Lisa said...

I've read before that this is one you need to let give some time to--and then everyone seems to like it!

Anonymous said...

Wow - sounds fabulous and Ireland as a setting. Great review.

Dana said...

Great review - this one sounds really interesting, and I've heard a lot of great things about it. I do have a weakness for books set in Ireland, for some unknown reason ;)

The Bookworm said...

This sounds different, great review. I like that its set in Ireland.

Anna said...

Booksnyc: I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it. I'll have to read more of Delaney's work at some point.

Diane: Thanks! I hope you give it a try.

Serena: I'm looking forward to discussing this one with you over lunch.

Mary: Thanks! I hope you get a chance to read it soon.

bermudaonion: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'm looking forward to your thoughts.

S. Krishna: I wasn't sure I'd like it, having accepted a copy simply because I enjoy books set in Ireland. It far exceeded my expectations. Hope you give it a try!

Veens: I hope you can get your hands on a copy!

Tribute Books: Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Staci: I hope you give it a try. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Suko: The cover is great, isn't it?

Lisa: I liked the writing style right away, but it took me about 70 pages to really lose myself in the story.

carolsnotebook: Thanks! I like how Delaney weaves in the Irish politics, as I know next to nothing about that.

Dana: Me, too. I hope you give it a try. Another good one set in Ireland is Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly. One of my all-time faves!

Naida: It was different, which made it so good. :)