Friday, March 19, 2010

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show: a Novel
by Frank Delaney

"She sprang from the womb and waved to the crowd. Then she 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 bestselling 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.

(copy taken from inside jacket)

Delaney does a marvelous job in this lyrical and interesting book. Deftly interweaving the political roil of the early 1930's in Ireland, into the story of one family, Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show both captivates and educates.

The main character, Ben, becomes embroiled in a web of scheming and incestous relationships, unable to fully entangle himself, even as he writes his story as an old man. As I read, I marveled at the way that he reacted to the others around him, at their expectations of him, and the way that many of them depended upon him - he, the youngest character in the entire book.

Venetia Kelly and her mother, Sarah, both seemed entrancing and undeniable. I felt myself drawn into the circle of their world with ease, following Ben blindly as he wanted to learn more. Nuances of their relationships with each other and the other people that surrounded them (i.e. - King Kelly, Mrs. Haas, Cody, etc.) were compelling and drew me deeper into the novel with every chapter.

At first, I attempted to skip over some of the political pieces mentioned in this novel, but soon realized how intregal they became to the story so I started really paying attention. Once I picked up on some of the smaller details, I found that I learned a lot about Ireland's political history in this time and that was very interesting.

This 400+ page novel is definitely an adult, not YA book, but it is beautifully written and worth the read. Eventually, I plan to go and check out some of Delaney's other novels. (I think I will miss Blarney - the ventriloquist doll that was almost elected to office - in the next one that I read, though!)

Full disclosure: Hardcover provided by publisher/author for review

If you would like more information, you can check out Frank Delaney's website at or his Facebook fan page at

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