Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show - Frank Delaney (Audio)


This audio had been sitting on the dusty virtual shelf of my iPod for at least a year when I impulsively decided to read it because I thought it was short and sweet. Well, I was wrong on both accounts. It wasn't necessarily short...11 discs. And for a coming-of-age tale, it wasn't very sweet either. What it was was entertaining, sometimes charming, and an interesting peek at Irish theater and politics in the 1930's.

Synopsis: The story is narrated by an adult Ben McCarthy, a man with a specific tale to tell. When Ben was 18, living a protected and relatively solitary life on a farm with his parents, his father became obsessed with Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show (and particularly the beautiful young Venetia herself) and impulsively leaves his family to join the troupe. Ben's mother, in fear for her family's financial and mental health, sends Ben out to retrieve him.

But nothing is ever quite that easy, is it? Ben's father avoids him, and refuses to come home. Ben himself falls under the spell of Venetia, and in a very short time, enrolls in the school of adulthood, learning about love, friendship, political bamboozlement, liars, bribery, greed and loss. Lessons that will affect the rest of his life, and ones that offer more questions than answers.

My thoughts: Don't ask my why, but I came into this book with the idea that it was going to be all rosy cheeks and puppy dog tails and first kisses and maybe a broken heart or two. I guess that is the image I have of a book that is "coming of age". In truth, it was a little more bitter and harsher than that. Definitely more tragic. At first, this left me on unsure footing. Whoa! This isn't all fun and games! I wasn't mentally prepared for that.

The book is not without its charm, though. The narrator's voice has a very conversational tone, that is often filled with dry humor and wit. Delaney is a masterful story-teller, spinning a yarn that captivates and begs for the reader to stick around to see what happens next. He goes on tangents (and properly apologizes for them in advance) to explain how Irish politics work, the legends built around Venetia's birth, or the proficiency of one woman's butt-scratching binges.

While you may engage in a chuckle or two, however, the overall plot has grave undertones and events that rob a young man of his youth and innocence. I found myself experiencing violent emotions of anger towards Ben's weak and slightly manipulative mother, his idiotic self-absorbed father, and the slimy, scheming cast of characters that seem bent on bringing Ben down to their level and ruining him.

A word about the audio production: Often, it is a very bad idea for authors to narrate their own books. In this case, Frank Delaney was an absolute DELIGHT to listen to. In fact, he could do this full time and I for one would seek him out. This was narrating at its absolute best, and was a highlight of the book.

4 out of 5 stars







17 comments:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Definitely sounds like a fun story - pretty timely for the upcoming St. Patrick's Day, too! Might have to pick this audio up...!

Julie P. said...

Perfect reading for this time of year. It's so refreshing to hear that this author did his book justice!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've heard Delaney read Joyce, and he's very good. But as an author, I'm not crazy about him!

Meg said...

I've been wondering about this one for a while -- the plot sounded really unique, but I wasn't sure it was for me. I appreciate your candor about the grave undertones -- I wouldn't have expected a "darker" story here, either! But it sounds like that was a good thing. Think I'll look for it!

Zibilee said...

The only books I have read by Delaney was Ireland, which I had mixed feelings about. I think this one sounds much better to me and I am intrigued by the not so rosy coming of age story that it tells. I am glad to hear that you got over your initial reservations and were really able to enjoy this read. Very awesome review, as usual!

Carrie K. said...

I enjoyed this one, too - and have The Matchmaker of Kenmare, which I understand is a sequel of sorts, on my to-review shelf. I have heard such great things about Delaney's narrating skills - wish my library would get some of his audiobooks!

caite said...

better a dusty virtual shelf than a dusty real shelf.
If your view of 'coming of age' books is 'rosy cheeks and puppy dog tails and first kisses' you are not reading the same coming of age books I have...lol
But glad you ended up liking it, for all your 'misconceptions'.

bermudaonion said...

Oh, I agree - if the author thing doesn't work out for Delaney he could make a living being an audiobook narrator.

heidenkind said...

Usually I avoid books with tragic overtones, but for some reason I'm very intrigued by this one! It sounds kind of like Water for Elephants. Will have to keep an eye out for it.

Wallace said...

I have this on my to-read list. Now I'm rethinking it -- hmmmm...

Melody said...

I've read so many rave reviews on this book that I need to add it onto my wishlist. I've his ARC copy of "The Matchmaker of Kenmare" which I'd be reading soon.

Alyce said...

It's definitely a relief when an author's narration turns out to be enjoyable. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Nymeth said...

I really enjoyed Delaney's book Ireland, and having just been to the country I'm definitely in the mood to read more of his stuff! I'll keep this one in mind.

Jenners said...

I just love that cover -- so bright and neat looking. I'm glad it worked for you though it was nothing like you were expecting. And glad to hear about another author who does as good job reading their own books.

Darlene said...

I'm intrigued by this book. I hope to read it one of these days.

Anna said...

I loved this book. It definitely wad darker than I expected to be. Delaney is a wonderful storyteller.

Beth F said...

I have this in audio -- ever since Kathy reviewed I've wanted to read it.