Title: Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show
Author: Frank Delaney
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from Library Thing
First line: She sprang from the womb and waved to the crowd.
Venetia Kelly may be the title character of Frank Delaney’s latest novel of historical Ireland, but the book is very much the story of Ben McCarthy, a coming-of-age story about a young man sent on a near impossible quest by his mother. Ben’s father, a farmer, has become enthralled by an actress in a traveling theater troupe, and has abandoned his family. His mother sends 18-year-old Ben to bring his father home – and Ben finds himself drawn into Venetia’s world just as deeply as his father.
When Venetia’s grandfather, King Kelly, comes to rent the cottage on Ben’s family’s property, Ben quickly comes to suspect that there is much more afoot than his father simply having a fling. Ben’s quest is played out against the backdrop of Irish politics, always a tangled and intriguing topic. Ben tells the story in the first person, with many digressions (his own word) from the storyline, digressions filled with politics, folklore, and faerie stories.
Delaney has the gift of storytelling, as well as the gift of writing – not necessarily the same thing. Not only can he spin a wonderful yarn, but he puts words together in a beautiful way. I loved the character of Ben, and Delaney does a fantastic job of showing how Ben matures, grows, and changes over the course of searching for his father and meeting Venetia. As he tells his story, he also tells us the things he has learned about people and life – these “digressions” are full of wisdom and insight. Ben’s entire life story is changed because of his father’s decision to leave his family, and the changes resonate down through the years. Venetia’s beauty and charm were enough to draw everyone around her into her thrall, and even many years later, as Ben tells us his story, he is still under her spell.
This novel is fine historical fiction, especially for anyone as fascinated by Irish history and storytelling as I am. Highly recommended.