Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show
Venetia Kelly is talented and beguiling. With and without her ventriloquist’s dummy, Blarney, she charms audiences across the Irish countryside as part of a theatrical traveling troupe. Unknowingly, she enchants the middle-aged farmer father of 18-year-old Ben MacCarthy, who decides to leave his family to join Venetia’s troupe. Ben’s mother asks him to find his father and bring him home—a quest that demands courage and persistence, and forces the young country boy to grow up quickly. At the same time, political changes are afoot in Ireland, and Venetia’s grandfather, King Kelly, is making his best attempt at becoming part of the new Irish government. King is a self-made man, and he has made his fortune unscrupulously.
Ben MacCarthy narrates the story, which includes numerous digressions on topics ranging from Irish history and folklore to ventriloquism. A number of entertaining secondary characters, including a foul-mouthed farmhand, Venetia’s glamorous stage mother, and a folklore collector, round the story out. Delaney’s juxtaposition of the newly-independent Ireland with the story of a shy, awkward young man coming of age works well. The novel isn’t always straightforward, and readers must be tolerant of a lot of meandering to get to the action, but Ben’s story is enjoyable, engaging, and entertaining.