Irish-born novelist Delaney (Ireland, 2005, etc.) spins another charming mix of cotton-candy romance and history.
When we last left Ben MacCarthy, world war, social upheaval and sometimes-requited love were thick in the air. Now, at the start of Delaney’s latest, we find him across the pond, facing “a frigid Saturday in late 1956, in my struggling, depressed native land.” He has a job well suited to his curious and artful mind, gathering stories from old-timers, notable among them a yarn maestro who “had, naturally, pored over the monkish volumes, but he had also heard many of his stories in the old ancestral way, in his own home.” Ahem: a man who collects blarney may just commit some on his own, and McCarthy, whom we suspect of being a stand-in for Delaney himself, is a gifted practitioner of the trade. He’s not quite prepared, though, for the return of his beloved Venetia, star of stage and—well, stage—who, having split the blanket in the previous volume in Delaney’s saga, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show (2010), breezes merrily back into his life. Or, better, the life of poor battered Ireland, for it’s one of Ben’s pals who has the task of telling him that she’s turned up nearly a quarter-century later: “She’s touring the country. But I’m sure you know it. And you’re avoiding it.” Just to rub it in, the friend adds that she’s just as beautiful as ever, and lonely. Well, gents, start your storytelling engines: Ben roams up and down the old sod seeking both stories and solace, affording Delaney plenty of opportunities for his hallmark tricks of the trade, from Quiet Man–style fisticuffs to goofy asides (“If Greece may be considered the birthplace of the rhetorical question, call Ireland the country that robbed it of all meaning”) and fourth-wall demolition (“The youngster who found the bodies, as I expect you’ve guessed, had come from the local hall”).
The story line isn’t exactly Ulysses, but Delaney makes the most of it to craft a light and pleasing entertainment.