Reviewed by Krista Castner
Frank Delaney’s latest book, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, delves into the Irish psyche at a critical juncture in Irish history. Ben McCarthy is the hero/narrator of this story which is set primarily in 1930’s Ireland. His life changes forever the day his father, a normally staid farmer, abandons the family and runs off to join Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show. It’s a tumultuous time in Ben’s life, and in Irish history. Delany mixes historical-fiction focused on the Irish political climate of the 1930’s, a coming-of-age story and a touch of mythic Irish storytelling. It is rather long in some spots, and has too many ‘digressions’ for my taste. However, as I read the final page, I was more moved by the story than I expected to be based on how hard it sometimes was to keep moving forward in the book.
Venetia Kelly’s opens with two storylines that intersect when Ben’s Dad joins Venetia Kelly’s vaudeville show. The first chapters provide background information about Venetia Kelly’s early life and family. Her mother, Sarah Kelly, was an actress in New York City at Venetia’s birth in 1900. Her grandfather, King Kelly, is a con-artist with an outsized personality. Venetia grew up in this tumultuous environment and was groomed to become an actress. This introductory section was filled with information that bogged the story down. For me, it was just too long.
In contrast to Venetia’s bohemian upbringing, Ben McCarthy is the only child of farming parents from rural Ireland. Their farm was well-run and prosperous. Ben’s parents doted on him and he lived an idyllic if somewhat solitary life until the age of eighteen when his life exploded. That was the day his father left to join Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show. The next day his mother sent him on a quest to find his father and bring him back home. Venetia ‘s show is a typical vaudeville show that criss-crosses Ireland. She uses her ventriloquism skills with her alter-ego doll, Blarney, to point out the inconsistencies of all the political parties running up to the election. The audience responds to Blarney’s observations, and the show gains in popularity.
Through Ben’s journeys in the wake of Venetia’s show, we are treated to glimpses of the 1930’s countryside as well as some in-depth explanations about the political transformation underway in Ireland at the time. Throw in an unexpected love story, and a couple of mysteries into the mix, and you have a book that might appeal to a wide range of readers.
Unfortunately, Delaney sometimes takes a very circuitous route to reach a conclusion. It took too long for the story to develop to the point that I really began to care about the characters. The beginning of the book was almost a collection of stand alone character sketches. Once they were knitted together into a storyline with a plot that moved forward it became an engrossing story. I just wish the knitting started earlier in the book.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.