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