It’s a formula as old as time: If you want your heart broken, fall in love with a star.
A pop star, that is—or, in the case of Delaney’s latest (Shannon, 2009, etc.), a star of the stage, Venetia Kelly. The story crosses the continents between Ireland and New York, along which route young Ben MacCarthy loses his father to the wiles of the temptress—a woman born out of wedlock, unmarried and of the theater, enough to banish her from polite society. Sent by mater to fetch pater from the viper’s lair, young Ben falls in love with Venetia himself and runs off to join the traveling show. Will bliss follow? Dear reader, if you know an Irish story, you would never imagine it, though there are some moments in Delaney’s leisurely novel where the misery is slightly less compounded than in others. All right, will young Ben at least find misery in the company of Venetia? That depends on whether Venetia turns out to be the settling-down type, which is, well, problematic but possible, as the author illustrates. But Ben and Venetia and the rest of Delaney’s characters are really props through which the author can deliver lightly spun histories of the Irish at home and in New York, working old grievances (“The idea of socially acceptable Irish in nineteenth-century New York—call that an oxymoron. No matter what their wealth, the new Irish-Americans had a tough haul”) and reveling in lyrical language to describe the everyday (“I organized some bread and marmalade, and a glass of milk”; “He had attended to whomsoever he’d needed to see and had come back to find me”) Delaney writes with immediacy and without anachronism, though in well-tried style that some will find enchanting and others trying, such as his habit of breaking the fourth wall at odd moments to address the reader. Fans won’t mind.
Immigrant history palatably told, with a little bodice-ripping romance thrown in for good measure.