Imagine spending an evening at an intimate dinner party where the food and the company are so magnificent that when you return home for the evening all you can do is slip off your shoes, find the nearest chair and sit staring into space mouthing to yourself the various parts of the evening and conversation that struck you at your core. That’s what this book has done for me.
Frank Delaney was born in Tipperary, Ireland and has been a BBC Broadcaster, a former judge of the Booker Prize, and has published several novels that are part of a series that concludes here in his latest novel, The Last Storyteller. Frank Delaney currently resides in Connecticut and New York, and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and his own web-site where he also provides a regular podcast about James Joyce’s Ulysses.
The Last Storyteller is the final conclusion of the main character, Ben MacCarthy’s, life. The first two novels, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show and The Matchmaker of Kenmare introduce you to Ben MacCarthy and the love of his life, Venetia Kelly. I have not yet read these two preceding novels but certainly will be hunting them up now that I’ve had the great fortune of reading its third which can stand alone, but has made me thirsty for more.
Ben MacCarthy’s life in 1956 is tumultuous. As he collects stories for the Folklore Commission, he encounters less than savory characters along the way and is swept unexpectedly into the rising tide of violence sweeping Ireland at this time. In addition, the love of his life has returned from the United States as part of a traveling show titled, “Gentleman Jack and his Friend,” which is of course headed by no such gentleman at all: Jack Stirling. To further complicate Ben’s life, his twin children whom he has never met are in tow of this traveling show. Ben battles his feelings of fear and regret as he must now decide how to rescue his beloved wife, after he had abandoned his chance years ago.
Frank Delaney’s novel weaves in characters that will take your breath away, especially John Jacob O’Neill, a most wonderful storyteller and a gentleman to the core whose stories seem to predict Ben’s future each time Ben drops in for a visit. Jimmy Bermingham, a rabble-rouser, brings unwanted excitement into Ben’s otherwise sedate life on the road. Finally, Venetia Kelly’s appearances and disappearances in the novel are maddening in their enticement and brevity. Venetia is as mysterious a woman as they come, her thoughts veiled from the audience as well as from Ben, their marriage as long and bumpy a road as you could ever anticipate and yet the tenderness and devotion through the years brings relief to the reader.
What I love most about the novel is that the main character is not presented as a neat and tidy hero that follows a steady climb upwards through difficulties. Ben advances and retreats in many battles within him and with others just as all true humans do. He is doggedly stubborn in the worst ways, slow to move his feet towards doing the right thing, and blunders into the wrong hands when searching for help. Ben’s saving grace is his connection to the ultimate storyteller, John Jacob O’Neill, who takes him under his wing and brings order and wisdom to his life. As a result, Ben is able to bring about the desired means to his own life and finds the words to tell his own ultimate story.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Ireland, folklore, and especially those who understand the ups and downs of romance and the complications that life brings in adulthood. It is a story that makes you feel richer for having read and one I will happily read again, after I read the two preceding novels.
If you enjoyed this review (and I truly do not feel I can do this book enough justice) you may find a copy at your local book-store, local library, or on-line at:
To learn more about Frank Delaney and his work please visit his wonderful and easy-to-navigate website:
Thanks always for reading, please drop in again next week…