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.