Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show

by Frank Delaney

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BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Frank Delaney's The Matchmaker of Kenmare.

January 1932: Ben MacCarthy and his father watch a vagabond variety revue making a stop in the Irish countryside. After a two-hour kaleidoscope of low comedy, juggling, tumbling, and other entertainments, Ben’s father, mesmerized by Venetia Kelly, the troupe’s magnetic headliner, makes a fateful decision: to abandon his family and set off on the road with Miss Kelly and her caravan. Ben’s mother, shattered by the desertion, exhorts, “Find him and bring him back,” thereby sending the boy on a Homeric voyage into manhood.

Interweaving a host of unforgettable creations—“King” Kelly, Venetia’s violent, Mephistophelean grandfather; Sarah Kelly, Venetia’s mysterious, amoral mother; and even a truth-telling ventriloquist’s dummy named Blarney—Frank Delaney unfurls a splendid narrative that spans half the world and a tumultuous decade.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781588369734
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/23/2010
Series: A Novel of Ireland , #5
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 342,681
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Frank Delaney is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Ireland, as well as The Last Storyteller, The Matchmaker of Kenmare, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, Tipperary, Shannon, and Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea. A former judge for the Man Booker Prize, Delaney enjoyed a prominent career in BBC broadcasting before becoming a full-time writer. Delaney died in 2017.


New York, New York, and Kent, Connecticut

Date of Birth:

October 24, 1941

Date of Death:

February 21, 2017

Place of Birth:

Tipperary, Republic of Ireland

Place of Death:

Danbury, Connecticut


Thomastown National School 1947-54; The Abbey School, Tipperary, 1954-60; Rosse College, Dublin, 1960

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

She sprang from the womb and waved to the crowd. Then she smiled and took a bow. That's what her mother told me, and so did the midwife, Mrs. Haas. During the birth, the wind howled outside, and the snow whirled in a blizzard of frightful depth and terror. People died on the streets that evening, overwhelmed by the weather. When the blizzard cleared at around ten o'clock, the stars came out bright and brighter, salt grains and diamonds, high above New York. The wind had stacked up the snow in hefty, gleaming banks against the bases of the tall buildings. By then the infant was pink and asleep, tiny hands wrinkled and clenched. Venetia, her name was, chosen the instant she appeared, and she was born, her mother insisted, in mythic circumstances: "Moses"; "bulrushes"; "nativity"-she murmured those words, to herself as much as to me.

You are reading the story of Venetia Kelly, that "mythically" born baby. She became a young woman of remarkable talent and passion, and when she was thirty-two years old-the year I met her-she was drawn into a terrible intrigue that had a profound effect upon my parents and me.

I've waited a long time to write it down. My reasons for doing so at all? Simple: The story isn't over, and I'm telling it now to try to secure its ending. I'm aware that I'm like a man running after his hat in a high wind: I may never retrieve it; at moments I shall seem ridiculous; and finally the forces against me may deny me the result that I want. But there it is.

Venetia Kelly's story became my story too; it determined the direction I would take at one time, and has controlled how I've lived ever since. I can't say whether I might have had a different life if I'd never met her, but such has been her impact that I've never looked for anything else. In other words, the existence that I lead keeps me as close to her as I can get under the circumstances.

As you read, please know that I'm a man of mature years telling the story of himself when young, so forgive me if at times I make the young me seem and sound older than eighteen. In fact, I don't think I've changed that much; certainly I recognize myself easily. And I wasn't a complicated young man, but an only child is always a little different. My parents treated me almost as an equal, and I perhaps had more adult sensibilities than were good for me at that age.

I think that I might have found it easier to write about myself as a younger child-the small boy who dug for gold on the farm so that he could buy his parents gifts; who worried that they worked too hard; who bought his mother tinned pears for her birthday. At eighteen, some of that survived, but by then the sense of responsibility with which I am cursed had begun to grow all over me like an extra skin. I feel it every day, I feel it now; it too spurs me to try to put this account in your hands. But I'll endeavor to assemble all the reasons, as I think of them, and as they arise.

Tiny Digression (more Digressions later too): Is there an ideal age at which momentous events should happen to us? Is there a certain plateau we must reach before we're capable of taking on "big things"? I have no idea, and if anybody ought to know, I should.

Chapter Two

As you'll see, I can't tell you this story without the detailed inclusion of the mother, Sarah Kelly, also an actress. Sarah, when telling me about Venetia's birth, flung about the word "auspicious." That afternoon, in an attempt to induce birth-Venetia was two days late-the mother sang something from Donizetti; she said that women in the theater had told her a high note could bring on labor.

As she hit the note, a horse in the street below neighed so loudly that the two expectant women, Sarah with her massive bump and Mrs. Haas with an armful of warm towels, went to the window and looked down. Sarah said, given the tricks of the light, that she thought she was "looking at a unicorn."

That same morning she had a letter from a school friend repaying an old debt.

"Auspicious," she said, waving a hand like a frond. "Wasn't it all auspicious?"

The father wasn't there that snowy night of the birth. Nor did he ever appear in Venetia's childhood. He did speak to me eventually (once the others had agreed to be interviewed), and he then, this unpleasant, aloof beanpole, tried to buy my silence. This was a fellow so measured that people said he never changed his clothes-always a black double- breasted suit, startling white shirt, dark red tie.

So: born out of wedlock, the daughter of a rich and prominent man and a glamorous and already renowned actress, a storm-tossed birth, a foot of snow in the streets, pedestrians hurled to the ground by winds of hurricane force, perhaps a unicorn, plus a recompense coming from afar. Was it mythic? It's tough to say no.

"We have myth to correspond with the great moments of life," Sarah Kelly said to me all those years later. She was prepared only to talk about such things as the birth or Venetia when young, and had condemned Mrs. Haas to the same restrictions. " 'When beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.' And every mother knows the exact, the precise, the meticulous details of the birth of every child she has ever borne- that's her own, private little myth. So I can tell you-this was a birth from a legend. If you want proof, see how remarkable the child became."

Now, looking at my notes of that conversation, I can analyze what Sarah said. In essence, she linked the birth of her daughter to the birth of Jesus Christ, and she supported her thesis with an unattributed quotation from Shakespeare, the remark about beggars and comets, and so forth.

If you want to put yourself in good company, reach for the top. That was Sarah-dramatic, resplendent, with a long, elegant slope of a nose, and born without the gene of shyness. And that, in essence, was the level of sophistication we came up against, my family and I. Plus, not far away from Sarah, crookedness, thievery, danger, and death.

Nobody here in Ireland recalls snow that night, or planets crashing, or at the very least some thunder and lightning. I've made local inquiries, and I've checked the meteorological office records-rain here, frost there, fog somewhere else, temperatures between 28 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit, nothing abnormal.

Where Venetia Kelly was born, the weather also looked as though it would stay ordinary that day-a dry and sunny New Year in New York, the first of January, 1900. In fact, it was unseasonably warm on Park Avenue. And then, in a matter of hours, the blizzard swept down from the Great Lakes faster than a rumor. No wonder Venetia often complained of the cold.

Sarah had to leave the house that night where she gave birth; she had to get out before the Andersons returned. That, apparently, was part of the deal. The conception of the baby had taken place in Mr. Anderson's study on Park Avenue-"on the desk," she told me. Sarah had always wanted to see his home, observe the things that comforted him; so, his wife away for Easter, Mr. Anderson had invited her over on the Sunday afternoon.

When she discovered that she was pregnant, Sarah then told him that she'd like the child to be born in the house in which it had been conceived, because she understood that great good luck attached to it.

"It's what the Chinese believe," she told me.

I myself have had the good fortune to know some Chinese folklore scholars, and none of them has ever told me-or confirmed or found for me-such a nostrum.

The blue-blooded wife knew nothing of their affair and its arrangements-although Mr. Anderson mused that if she had known, she might well have agreed; she possessed, he said, that kind of eccentric tolerance, she was an American WASP. But in any case Mr. Anderson maneuvered things so that, once he knew roughly the date, he would make sure that they would be in Connecticut for their annual Christmas sojourn.

"The arrangement was," said Sarah, "that I had to get out as soon as I felt able, no room at the inn, so to speak." After the birth, Mrs. Haas was to send a message to Mr. Anderson in Greenwich, using Sarah's code: "The workmen have left the house."

Everything turned out as planned, although Sarah said she could have done without the rush to her father's house on that cold night. Even so, she was to live there for eleven years until she came to Ireland.

Sarah Kelly eventually fetched up in Florida, retired and elegant, well cared for. She had spent most of her life in an ivy-covered house on the edge of Dublin, where I went to see her a number of times.

With her help (up to a point), and constant research and questioning, I've spent years trying to piece together this story. The decision to assemble it finally became a matter of inner peace. There had been so many days when I'd asked myself whether I'd really lived through it, whether it had actually happened. Over and over I've had to interrogate the plot. Not to mention the sense of loss.

And I've longed for-I still long for-any clues of any kind to Venetia's character, temperament, behavior, childhood, talent, anything. I want to know more and more and more about her; I never got enough of her.

Sarah didn't help much in supplying any of what I wanted because Sarah couldn't stop acting. After each and every meeting with her I spent so much time trying to determine how much was true, and how much performance. For example, as long as I knew her, she continued to give the impression of being airy, delicate, unknowing, and vague. She wasn't; she was as sharp as a tack and as smart as green paint. The proof is that she ended up unscathed by the entire incident, unmoved. And she died very rich.

Those peculiar visits to Sarah brought mixed pleasures. To begin with, I always caught my breath when I saw her, because it was like looking at an older incarnation of Venetia. She'd stand at the fireplace, looking regal. Or under the huge tree in the garden, beckoning to me, and looking mysterious. Then the hand on my arm, the sigh as she looked at me and shook her head as she murmured: "Adonis, still an Adonis."

Time was not the enemy of this beautiful woman; Sarah grew more beautiful. As she aged, she kept her figure splendidly, and-her actressy gifts-she constantly seemed to show it off to me, turning this way and that. Once or twice, I even thought she was giving me the old come-on. I never tested it, never did anything about it; I couldn't. More to the point, I wouldn't. But I often wonder if I should have; and then I think, What if I had fallen for her? I could have-the psychological conditions were in place. That was, of course, the trick; and she knew how to pull it off.

At the end of every visit, I came away cleft in twain by those mixed feelings: desire with distaste; liking with discomfort; warmth with repulsion. By the time of our last "appointment," as she called our meetings, I'd learned enough not to succumb, knew that I had to handle myself carefully.

Over the years, then, gliding about her in her ivy-covered house, or walking like a stork in the garden, Sarah, still the grande dame of the Abbey Theatre, told me her version of what happened on the night of Venetia's birth-how she turned up on her father's doorstep, infant in her arms, like a character from a melodrama.

"I was like Mary without Joseph. But elated, my dear. It was the first day of the week, the month, the New Year, and the new century, and there was I with a new life in my arms. I was so proud, and I felt vindicated in having her, even if she was technically illegitimate."

"Which is, I presume, why she bears the name Kelly and not Anderson?"

"I know, my dear Ben, that you have your own reservations about my father, the wonderful King. I understand. But that night-oh, my dear, he was supreme. He took his new granddaughter from my arms, carried her into the house, and sat by the fire, rocking her, crooning to her. He never reproached me, he never made a comment. Audrey was with me, and she adored my father."

The idea of Sarah's father being "supreme" is something you'll come up against as you read on. And by "Audrey" she meant, as you'll have gathered, Mrs. Haas, whose real name, Venetia told me, was not Audrey. She was Gretchen, Viennese-born. And she hated King Kelly-I mean true loathing.

Sarah called her Audrey after a character in As You Like It. Shakespeare gives the oaf, Touchstone, a girlfriend named Audrey, and she is described-by Touchstone-as "a foul slut." Mrs. Haas, so far as I could tell, never found out.

And that gave me another side of Sarah, not at all her managed demeanor of sweetness and light. The "Audrey" thing was amusing and tart, yes, and witty-and even ironic, given Mrs. Haas's efficiency and domestic flair. But it was bitchy and unjust, and it peels back a corner, just a tiny flap, of the other side of Sarah.

That sidelong detail gives me the appropriate moment to warn you of something. As I've already hinted, I'm prone to Digressions. Like my anger, it's a matter of character with me-meaning I have difficulty controlling it. I digress when I'm in conversation, I digress when I'm teaching, I digress-dammit-when I'm eating. If you can accept that about me without too much harsh judgment, you might even find me entertaining.

So, throughout this story you can expect three kinds of sidestep: Important Digression, which will usually be something to do with factual history; Relatively Important Digression, where a clarification needs facts and I will ferry them in from a side road; and-my favorite-Unimportant Digression, which can be about anything.

I ask your forgiveness in advance. We Irish do this digression stunt. We're so damn pleased with our ability to talk hind legs off donkeys, that we assume people like to listen.

And now, to drive home the point, here's one of those Unimportant Digressions; it's regarding Mrs. Haas and a peculiarity that puzzles me to this very day and for which I felt that I could never ask an explanation.

She was a lanky woman, and she wore "unusual" shoes-brightly colored, of shiny leather (I think she must have applied some kind of dye to them), and they always had high heels. The rest of her clothing leaned toward dull; I suppose that nobody in Sarah's orbit dared to dress outstandingly.

Anyway, when sitting down, Mrs. Haas used to kick off her high-heeled shoes-and then, and instantly, begin to scratch her behind. She often went to great lengths to achieve this, shifting in her chair and twisting this way and that. Off would come the shoes and the scratching would begin. Nobody paid a blind bit of notice.

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Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
booklove2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Any book lover knows there are some books that find you at the right time in your life -- a book that couldn't have impacted you more at any other time. But there are also books that are the worst you could read at a particular moment in your life. Books affect readers differently depending on what is going on in the reader's life and what is happening in the book. 'Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show' was one of the worst books I could have read right now. I struggled with this one. Wandering around Ireland in 1932, we follow young Ben's search for his father. He disappeared with a traveling show --captivated by Venetia Kelly, an actress, despite having a wife and son he loves dearly back home. Ben is an innocent naive farmer's son, that has to change everything he is to fight for what is right, even if that fight takes everything else away from him. Ben and his family are wonderful sweet people. I didn't like seeing another horrible, malicious, manipulative, vindictive family using that against Ben's family. There is never a pleasant phase in this book -- from page one starts the job of unraveling what went wrong. I didn't understand the characters actions. Ben's dad is more thoughtful to his wife (showing his care in tiny ways all the time) than maybe 95% of the world's population could ever be, and yet he is so quick to break her heart. Another character reacts one way to keep a secret, but then they backpedal and do something else that is the equivalent of shouting that secret from the rooftops. I would have liked to see a map of Ireland with all of the places Ben visits labeled within the front cover, since he is constantly traveling. I'm surprised that Ireland wasn't more of a character itself. It takes a while to introduce the characters before the meat of the story begins. With Ben as the narrator, he says "I'm prone to digressions" and "forgive me if I sometimes come across as jumpy" and "forgive me if I've taken too long to introduce [the characters:]". I don't feel these were Ben's apologies. I feel they are the writer's... and as Delaney is a former judge for the Booker Fiction Prize, I find that surprising. I would have liked to see some of the interesting bits mentioned passively, written about more: On Ben's travels, he "rides in a hearse" but that is all that is said on the subject. Why even mention it at all? Somehow I think I ride in a hearse could have added some much needed comic relief to this novel. There is a sort of distance to the story (which is only beneficial if you are constantly suspicious of these characters and would rather not get close to the story.) If I had been aware that from page one I would be suspicious of every character, wondering what their motives are to ruin the lives of other people, I wouldn't have chose to read this. I'm dealing with this kind of thing in my own life -- wondering what motives people have to ruin other lives. I read books to escape my own life, not to worry even more. I don't want to worry about characters the same way I worry about people in my own life. I was even suspicious of the characters that became the biggest victims. That isn't how I'd like to read a book. Not to say I only read books with lovely nice characters, but having a plot solely be about suspicious characters is too much. There isn't really a clear, cut and dried ending either. I don't like writing a bad review. I can only imagine the amount of work it takes to write a book. Who am I to say if it isn't good? Again, it is largely my current problems that are affecting my enjoyment of this and not mainly the fault of the book. Books effect everyone differently. This book reminded me of 'Big Fish' by Daniel Wallace and 'I Capture the Castle' by Dodie Smith (if either book was filled with despicable characters I didn't want to read about, anyway.) Come on now, even a ventriloquist dummy is horrible: "Venetia Kelly, sere
mckait on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderful story. Story being the key word. There are writers and there are story tellers. In my own opinion, a storyteller rises above most of the time. There were, after all story tellers long before there were authors. James Clare has a samll part in this tale, but being a story teller somehow stand out and above most other characters. He has the wisdom of the ages, as do all teller of tales. As much as I admire James Clare, who would he be without Frank Delaney? Himself a great and wise teller of tales. He is in a way a second generation storyteller, wouldn't you say? But I digress.This is a love story. It is a story of deception and fraud and yes, even death. A good family man is lured away from his land and his family by the wiles of a temptress who was only being a good child. Or a simple woman? Venetia Kelly was above all an actress. An actress descended from King Kelly, who proved much of the evil in this tale. She it is, that lures the good father of Ben who carries this story on his young slender shoulders. Harry, she calles him, has left land and family to follow her on the road. To finance and fondly nuture, to love from a prescribed distance, the fair and strangely oblivous Venetia Kelly. Once upon a time Ben noticed his father leaving his fields early and going off in the car, dressed in his Sunday best. He came home late. Sometimes very late. Accompanying his father one night, Ben learns what has drawn his father away. That same night he learns that he will be going home alone. Thus begins a quest. One that changes over time as Ben changes. It takes a turn When the woman Ben believes to be his fathers mistresss says to him that she has never met anyone she liked as much as she does Ben. Extraordinary as it seems, she tells Ben that the reason for her father being in her life is surely to lead her to Ben. Tragedy abound in ths story that takes place in the early twentieth century. A politically tumultuous time even in Ireland, a land known for tumultuous times. Ben gives his listeners permission to begin hating him at one point in the tale. I did. I haven't quite forgiven him. His sin was an old one. He broke his mothers heart.A good story needs a good ending. This one has a good ending. Read ..and more so, listen and let this story unfold before you. You won't be sorry.
corgiiman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This a wonderful book written by a superb storyteller. Much in the vain of "Ireland" also by Delaney, it tells a story of an Irish family caught in a plot during the 1932 National elections of Ireland. This book intertwines fiction with historical facts as well as telling the reader of Irish life. You are not sure how it is going to turn out until the end, it has many twist and turns. I liked most of all his "digressions" in which he explains either what the narrator is thinking, historical information, or tidbits of Irish society.. Very engaging and strongly recommended.
lyzadanger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Frank Delaney's most recent novel is a misty-sweet race through softcore Irish political history, country farms and criminal intrigue. We watch a father's obsession turn into a son's fate, in the framework of the Vaudevillian traveling show of the novel's title character. This book is charming: Delaney knows how to woo his Ire-phile gaga American audience, and he's keyed right into his early-1930s setting. Pedestaled love object Venetia is a vaporous, attenuated maiden straight out of an Art Nouveau lithograph. Cars have strange names and feel magical. The denizens of Irish villages are borderline adorable, with folksy sobriquets like Large Lily (who Ben's father claims has a "special dispensation from the pope to wear her legs upside down").A menace looms behind everything, which our narrator¿the son, the appealingly-named Benedict MacCarthy¿reminds us at the outset of nearly every chapter. Ben's tension-building passages have a purposely breathless "you're not going to believe what happened" quality. We are told to expect much. The story an aged Ben is weaving here, in hindsight, a memoir, includes what he calls Digressions (some Important, some not so). Some of these digressions include allusions to the book's most intriguing theme, that of mythology and storytelling. In the vein of mythologists like Joseph Campbell, Delaney explores some interesting angles of hero transformation and the blurring of lines between reality and story. Some of the novel's most interesting characters, bad guy King Kelly and good guy James Clare, are outstanding storytellers. It is in these stories subservient to the main story that I found the most pleasure.There's something at odds between these themes of myth and the book's overall come-hither openness, however. Most of the time, the tone feels like heartwarming, book club fodder, clearly made for Americans (were my Irish aunts to read this book, I kind of picture them starting to roll their eyes by the second or third page). There's nothing drastically wrong here: the characters are well-tuned and considered, the plot¿at least for the first two-thirds of the book¿engrossing. But the novel starts taking steps in a deeper direction only to succumb to the demands of the action-packed storyline. This is a pity.The other pity is the plot as the book roils to a close. Ben spends so much time telling us to expect so much, building our expectations. When events finally do tangle up and burst into a denouement, it feels rushed and unsatisfying. The plot, so easy to follow for so much of the book, gets distracted-feeling and harried. If anything, there's just a bit too much plot.This is a great candidate for a travel read, and is enjoyable and brisk. It's so fun to read that it is hard not to expect just a bit more of it.
sagustocox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney is a coming of age novel set during a tumultuous time in Ireland's history. Set in the early 1930s, Ireland and Britain were in the midst of an economic battle in which farmers refused to keep paying back the loans that enabled them to buy farmland. And Britain consequently began placing tariffs on all Irish goods -- all the while the political system in Ireland was tenuous."Of course it was all still being run by politicians. We have an old saying here: 'No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.'" (Page 15)The narration is conversational in tone as Ben MacCarthy tells his family history, with tales on the side about the political climate of the time. Although he digresses from the main story of his father's disappearance and reappearance with the Venetia Kelly Traveling Show, MacCarthy warns you ahead of time that he often falls off topic, but that most of his stories have some relevance to the main narration. A quirky technique, but enjoyable given that the digressions are entertaining."So, throughout this story you can expect three kinds of sidesteps: Important Digression, which will usually be something to do with factual history; Important Digression, where a clarification needs facts and I will ferry them in from a side road; and -- my favorite -- Unimportant Digression, which can be about anything." (Page 10)Delaney has created a multitude of characters with their own depth and meaning in the story, and there are references throughout to other classic works. He has created an energized menagerie through which readers will see and experience through Ben's eyes as a young man in search of his father and himself. In many ways Ben is like his father, especially as the narration progresses. Readers will find that he is unwinding his story slowly and deliberately, mirroring how his father contains his emotions and his true passions from his family."Beside me, my father reacted so hard that he made the bones of his chair creak. He pulled back his hands, tightened them into fists, and held them in front of him like a man containing himself." (Page 79)The deliberate way in which the story unfolds enables readers to learn more about the MacCarthy family, the Kelly's, and the climate of Ireland at the time. A nation and families stuck between the old traditions and the modern ways of the world, seeking the best path through to the other side. What propels Ben on this journey and what does he learn? Readers will want to pick up a copy of Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show to find out.
knittingmomof3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
From my blog...Imagine yourself settling in with your favourite beverage and listening to a longtime acquaintance recalling a pivotal tale from his past. Such is the manner Frank Delaney tells the story of Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show. The narrator tells the tale of an 18-year-old boy in the rather turbulent times in Ireland in 1932-33, yet the tale is not told straight from the 18-year-old, but rather from a much older man telling the tale of his youth. In a masterful way, Delaney commands the reader's attention with his delightful manner of recounting a tale, at times true, and at other times whimsical. The cast of characters in this narrative are explained to the reader from the beginning and brought to life by the narrator, Ben MacCarthy. Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show offers something for everyone, an eccentric cast of characters, political unrest and turmoil leading up to a contentious election, digressions, death, betrayal and beautifully narrated scenes aimed to bring this magical period to life. Delaney weaves together an entertainingly long and delightfully ramblingly tale, much like the hills of Ireland, mixing in an eccentric cast with a story so unbelievable it often becomes difficult to distinguish fancy from fantasy, yet all the while keeping the reader's rapt attention from the very beginning until the last sentence is read. High marks all around for Frank Delaney's novel, Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, guaranteed to capture the hearts and minds of the readers. Book groups looking for an intriguing and captivating novel to read would do well to choose Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show.
ddelmoni on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewer program I¿ve found Frank Delaney. Love, love, love Delaney¿s writing style and how he mastered the movement of this story and implanted his ¿digressions¿. He is a master storyteller. Delaney really shows the ¿art¿ of Irish storytelling and writing in Venetia Kelly and couples it beautifully with historical elements. I too was charmed by the characters and the ¿way¿ Delaney tells his story. So much so, I went out and bought Ireland -- I simply didn¿t want to move on to more mundane fiction.This novel is the ¿hero¿ story of old and most could guess where the story was leading and probably how it would end ¿ but the real joy of Venetia Kelly¿s Traveling Show is the journey Delaney takes you on. The people you meet, the stories you hear and the things you learn in Delaney¿s 1930¿s Irish countryside are always interesting, enlightening and hopeful. I highly recommend this book.
kalypso219 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am thrilled to have received this book from Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. This was my first book by Frank Delaney. I truly enjoyed this wonderful adventure. The story is set in the early 1930's, difficult times for Ireland and Britain. It is narrated by Ben MacCarthy, whose father has abandoned the family to follow the traveling show. The story is populated with a host of wonderfully written characters, who seemed so real. Historical figures are woven in as well. Overall, a very enjoyable read. I will be picking up more books by Frank Delaney on my next trip to the bookstore.
kathy_h on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
i wish i could say i enjoyed Venetia Kelly as much as others seem to have. it was my first delaney although i've seen his works and even have another one, ireland, on my shelf. i found his writing quite disjointed and irritating...too many semi-colons and LONG dashes (perhaps that's his point...his way of authentically trying to tell venetia's, and thus ireland's, story?) i didn't care for any of the characters, either, and the "digressions" drove me nuts. perhaps my distate was more towards the style than the narrative, but nevertheless, only a 2-star read for me.
LiterateHousewife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Benedict MacCarthy is forced kicking and screaming into manhood when his father, a seemingly happy Irish farmer and family man, runs off with Venetia Kelly¿s Traveling Show. When he can no longer ignore or avoid what his mother needs him to do, he begins his reluctant quest to bring his father back home. Ben isn¿t the only one coming of age in 1932. Ireland is as well. She is a maturing democracy during an election year that proves to be pivotal. As Ireland is determining its political future, Ben must find the strength to believe in himself and take on the responsibilities of adulthood.It is very difficult to succinctly summarize Venetia Kelly¿s Traveling Show. There is so much involved with covering the history of and the relationship between two families and the nuances of the political climate at that time. Additionally, I don¿t want to give away any part of the story unnecessarily. It was such a joy to lean forward toward my book in anticipation of what would happen next. One of the most beautiful things about this book as that it continued to reveal itself to me through the last paragraph. I finished the book with a satisfied pat on the cover. I want anyone coming to this book to be able to experience the same thing.Ben, as narrator, is self-aware and purposeful, the mirror opposite of his 18-year-old self. He is always conscious of what he is doing and how he is doing it, sharing his thought and writing processes along the way. Because he¿s looking back at his life at a distance, he never assumes that his readers are overly familiar with the time or place in which he grew to be a man. He continues to provide background information throughout the story. I loved the way that Delaney uses Ben to blends traditional Irish storytelling into his novel. These digressions and the flavor they add to the story are what make it unique and refreshing.I remember my mother telling me about naptime at her house when she was a little girl. My grandmother wore what Mom called nurse shoes, making it nearly impossible to hear where she was in the house. One day, Mom and my Aunt Donna were not taking a nap. Grandma, in her stealth nurse shoes, caught them before they were able to feign sleep and they were just as quickly punished for not doing as they were told. Venetia Kelly¿s Traveling Show is like my Grandma and her nurse shoes. It¿s not a pushover. It requires you to pay attention at all times. Even still, I found that the story snuck up on me, catching me completely off guard. Its references to Synge and Yeats reminded me of my own years as an undergraduate when I was in love with all things Irish. Instead of being punished, however, I was rewarded with one of the richest reading experiences I¿ve had in a very long time. Thank goodness for Frank Delaney and his literary nurse shoes.
awriterspen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney by all appearances contained within it's pages the type of story I like best: history, adventure, and a touch of intrigue or politics. I am a patient reader, especially when a book looks so promising. I give such authors time to build the characters, set up the plot, and deliver a great story. This time I was slightly disappointed, though not through the entire book. The first hundred pages took me probably a week to get through. I was counting on the rest of the story to take flight once the groundwork was laid. The next hundred pages were slightly more intriguing. Once I was halfway through the book I I was finally engaged and read the rest of the book in a day. The book is narrated by an eighteen year old boy named Ben MacCarthy. He and his family are caught up in the plot of an aspiring political candidate. Unraveling the mess and the truth takes time and perseverance. His father runs off with a traveling show leaving his wife and son in near financial ruin. The first half of the book Ben travels the countryside trying to persuade his father to come home. The next half of the book is different but much more engaging. Along the way, readers are shown the Irish countryside while being introduced to it's folklore. The ending was not what I had expected yet it was very clever and seemed to fit with the overall narrated tone. Would I recommend this book? If you like novels that unwrap themselves slowly and methodically and you especially enjoy Irish historical fiction novels (1932-33) , and have the patience for diversions, then yes. Page 10 sums it up: "I ask your forgiveness in advance. We Irish do this digression stunt. We're so damn pleased with our ability to talk hind legs off donkeys, that we assume people like to listen. "Believe it or not, that is not the only mention of donkeys in this book (see, a diversion). My husband is Irish and when I read that line to him, he responded that a truer statement has never been made. Overall, 3.5 stars from me. I wish I could have given this book more because parts of it were great. Yet, considering the amount of time it took me to become engaged with this book, if I had not received this as part of Early Reviewers I would have given up one hundred pages in.
mdexter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Frank Delaney confirms that he is a great storyteller in the Irish tradition with his wonderfully absorbing novel, Venetia Kelly¿s Traveling Show. It is 1932 and Ben MacCarthy¿s father has run off with Venetia Kelly and her traveling vaudeville show. Ben¿s mother sends him to bring his father home. And so begins Ben¿s adventure across depression-era Ireland whose young democracy is just emerging. Ben himself falls under the spell of the company of actors and becomes the fateful catalyst for the unforeseen circumstances which ultimately bring his father home.Interwoven in Ben¿s story is the story of the new Ireland and the politics of Eamon DeValera. In the distance is the threat of fascism on the rise in Germany. But at the heart of Delaney¿s story is the story of the people of Ireland, flocking to see a company of actors who bring culture into their lives and eager to create a nation built out of a combination of traditions and grinding poverty.I was as enthralled with Venetia Kelly and her traveling show as Ben MacCarthy and couldn¿t put this book down. Frank Delaney spins a great yarn ¿ I¿m off now to read his other books. Highly recommended.
Cailin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! This book tells a story by telling lots of other smaller stories and then bringing them all together in the end. The book follows Benedict "Ben" MacCarthy as he embarks on a Ulysses like quest to save his family. His father has been bewitched by Venetia Kelly and her Traveling Show and has left his home and family to follow her. Ben has been tasked with bringing him home.The book is beautifully written, the characters, especially James Clarke and Dora Fay are people you wish you knew. Lovely book!
Myckyee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was offered Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show to review I was quite excited and felt I was in for a treat.

I found the story to be refreshingly different. Set amid the politics of Ireland in the early twentieth century, the plot revolves around Ben McCarthy and his quest to bring his errant father back home to the family farm. This character, Ben, is imbued with warmth, humour and strength ¿ much more strength than that shown by either of his parents. Other characters, King Kelly and his daughter and granddaughter, seem larger than life and I suppose, a book reminiscent of some of the world¿s best-loved fables, are meant to be. I¿d always thought people like that were a bit scary and this is confirmed by the slightly sinister feel of these people. I¿ve known people like King Kelly ¿ I¿m related to one ¿ so that character hits close to home.

This book is filled with contrasts: Ben, though just eighteen is loyal, persistent, steadfast and strong; his father, Harry is flighty, weak, unfaithful and easily swayed. His mother too is an eerie foil for the beautiful Venetia Kelly. Where one woman behaves `above it all¿, the other lives in a world closer to earth.

The history and politics of Ireland also play a role in this novel. While the politicians, local and national, are battling it out for power, a ventriloquist¿s dummy is giving them a run for their money. Some of the dialogue from this dummy is not so dumb and the author¿s clever use of this character adds to the quirkiness of the plot.

I enjoyed this book for many reasons but probably the most was that it was set in Ireland where my grandparents were born. I can still remember my grandmother calming my baby girl by gently uttering the word `whisht¿ and I was delighted to see that word actually in print (page 77) in this novel. The characters were wonderfully oddball and the story kept me turning the pages. And for all that Venetia Kelly¿s Traveling Show looks like a large-ish book (at over 400 pages) it was a pretty quick read with most chapters being relatively short.

whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Perhaps my Irish blood has been too diluted or maybe it has been recalled entirely but I don't seem to enjoy Irish storytelling with all of its attendant divagations as much as I probably should given my heritage. Odd this, given my own propensity for rambling far afield of the topic. But the wandering digressions present in this book, as in so many Irish tales, made for a slow and meandering read for me. Couple this with much information about the political situation in Ireland in the 1930's and, well, I put the book down as often as I picked it up. Of course, the narrator tells us early on that both digressions and frank discussions of politics are deeply woven into the heft of the Irish character. Obviously my own sketchy connection to Ireland, traced back to a single great grandparent, is too small to count anymore since these two things are as scantily represented in my reading as possible. Occasionally I even forget to wear green on St. Patrick's Day for heaven's sake. Ben MacCarthy is only 18 when his father takes him to see a traveling show. His father is enamoured of the show's headliner, Venetia Kelly, a young woman magnetic, charming, beautiful, and far too young for him but who welcomes the older MacCarthy into the crew of the show that evening, leaving young Ben to go home alone and break the devastating news to his mother. Ben's mother asks the impossible of her only son: to go and bring his father home. And so begins Ben's adventure through the world of vaudeville, dirty politics, and a doomed, incendiary love affair. While Ben grapples with his father's obsession for Venetia, a political charlatan and proponent of Fascism is stealing the family farm from right under Ben's mother's nose. Flipping between the situation with Venetia and that of the farm, Delaney weaves the personal and the political together tightly. The narrative is being told by Ben many years after the events of the story and includes research about the people involved which he didn't know when he was freshly 18. The form works although it does allow for increased digressions and less of a sense of urgency than would have been likely had his character been telling the story in the thick of the events. There is an large cast of characters as well and the narrative jumps around to follow different people as their impact on the story waxes and wanes. So while it is told in a basically linear fashion, there are all sorts of tendrils creeping away from the central plot line. Ben's character addresses the reader throughout the narrative, making the reader feel as if he or she was sitting listening to a master storyteller beside the fire. And while the scope of the novel is sweeping, Delaney's narrative choice makes if feel smaller and more personal than it might. As I mentioned above, I personally had some difficulty with the meandering of the tale but many other reviewers found the digressions added immeasurably to their experience. In pulling in so many greater issues, in terms of the politics and the national character of the Irish, I found myself at a remove from the characters which made it hard for me to feel sympathy for them in their situations, even when the most naive and trusting among them were being manipulated. Although the ventriloquist's dummy named Blarney was important symbolically, his inclusion outside the parameters of the show itself was a bit disturbing. Over all, I have to say I was a little disappointed in the book, perhaps less for what I read than for the loss of my expectations. And maybe I should go back and check my Fran's nationality again because I don't seem to have inherited the Irish adoration of theater, politics, and divagation along with my freckles.
bookwormygirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Where to start on this one?! Well, I'll start with I loved this story.Frank Delaney is a master storyteller. Ben McCarthy, narrator/hero extraordinaire, tells us a story of his youth in a very intimate setting - almost making you feel as if you are sitting down with him listening while he reminisces. Set in mostly 1930's Ireland, you learn how his life forever-changed the day his father abandoned their family to join Venetia Kelly¿s Traveling Show.At first it took me a little bit to get into the story only because it starts off with a lot of background information on both Ben and Venetia. So there are two storylines - Venetia's bohemian upbringing and then Ben who's always been protected and pampered by his doting partents - that is, until the day his father up and leaves and his mother begs him to chase down his father and bring him back home. Through Ben's journey with the Traveling Show you get a glimpse of the tumultuous political situation Ireland was in during the 1930's. I think Mr. Delaney was superb in mixing fiction with non-fiction. You really had a grip on the political atmosphere of the 30¿s and what a role it played on every day lives. Now, keeping in mind that there is more than one story line at the beginning of the book, once these story lines come together and everything starts to fit together - it all weaved into this fantastic coming-of-age story, with an unexpected romance, mysteries to be solved and a journey through Ireland that introduces you to many a lovely character (each with their own story to tell).Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show is an all-around perfect novel. There were times where I laughed and others where I cried and even others that I felt awed by it - all in all a very worthwhile read.
nnjmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Venetia Kelly may be the title character of Frank Delaney¿s latest novel of historical Ireland, but the book is very much the story of Ben McCarthy, a coming-of-age story about a young man sent on a near impossible quest by his mother. Ben¿s father, a farmer, has become enthralled by an actress in a traveling theater troupe, and has abandoned his family. His mother sends 18-year-old Ben to bring his father home ¿ and Ben finds himself drawn into Venetia¿s world just as deeply as his father.When Venetia¿s grandfather, King Kelly, comes to rent the cottage on Ben¿s family¿s property, Ben quickly comes to suspect that there is much more afoot than his father simply having a fling. Ben¿s quest is played out against the backdrop of Irish politics, always a tangled and intriguing topic. Ben tells the story in the first person, with many digressions (his own word) from the storyline, digressions filled with politics, folklore, and faerie stories.Delaney has the gift of storytelling, as well as the gift of writing ¿ not necessarily the same thing. Not only can he spin a wonderful yarn, but he puts words together in a beautiful way. I loved the character of Ben, and Delaney does a fantastic job of showing how Ben matures, grows, and changes over the course of searching for his father and meeting Venetia. As he tells his story, he also tells us the things he has learned about people and life ¿ these ¿digressions¿ are full of wisdom and insight. Ben¿s entire life story is changed because of his father¿s decision to leave his family, and the changes resonate down through the years. Venetia¿s beauty and charm were enough to draw everyone around her into her thrall, and even many years later, as Ben tells us his story, he is still under her spell.This novel is fine historical fiction, especially for anyone as fascinated by Irish history and storytelling as I am. Highly recommended.
LiteraryFeline on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A young man on the cusp of adulthood has lead a relatively good life up until that point. His father is a well-respected farmer and seems happily married to his mother. Everything changes, however, when he attends a traveling show performance with his father one evening. His father refuses to return home, emphatic that he is joining the show. The elder MacCarthy is smitten with the show's lead act, Venetia Kelly, an interest that had begun two years before, unbeknownst to the son. Ben MacCarthy is forced to grow up very quickly after that. Tasked by his mother to go after and bring home his father, Ben must give up his own dreams of college. The year is 1932 and the story takes place in Ireland, a beautiful and yet tense backdrop. Political tensions are high with the upcoming election and subsequent battle for power. What follows is a story full of intrigue, drama, comedy and family loyalty and strength. It is also rich in history with a dash of Irish lore. I laughed. I cried. I held my breath in anticipation of and fear. What sounds like a simple story is far from it. Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show is quite complex, with many layers. What I found most exquisite in this novel was Frank Delaney's writing. Narrated by an older Ben MacCarthy as he attempts to document the events that took place during the early 1930's. He begins by setting up the characters, introducing them and sharing a little of their background. It was almost too much, but just when I was growing tired and wondering if the book would go on like that forever, Ben's narrative moved into the story and the events that changed his life forever.I really came to care for the characters. Ben, in his innocence and naivety, was charming and thoughtful. He does what he has to do with the confidence of the young, yet he is still unsure and scared at times. His parents seemed like good people, hardworking and persevering. There were moments I was less than sympathetic with his father, quite a few, actually, but I could see why Ben held him in such high regard. I really felt for Ben's mother. She lost so much in all of this. The Kelly family remains difficult for me to describe. King Kelly, Venetia's grandfather, is a cold man, charming in his own way, but clearly used to using people to reach his own ends. Sarah King, Venetia's mother, and Venetia herself were held at a distance for the first half or so of the book--untouchable almost--but not without reason. The author dazzled the reader with their beauty and skill, both on stage and off. Both were actresses, you see. It is only as time goes on and Ben reveals more that we are given a deeper view of the two women. Venetia, eccentric as she is, never really loses her luster.The side characters are just as intriguing. From Mrs. Hass, the King's housekeeper, to my favorites, Miss Fay and James Clare, a smart and supportive pair who offer their help to Ben along the way. James Clare was an especially interesting character; his occupation involved traveling around Ireland collecting and telling stories. He knew just the spin to put on a story. The most ordinary of circumstances seemed like an adventure when he was through weaving his own tale.The political undercurrent that runs through the novel plays a significant part in the novel. Just as the MacCarthy family is facing serious upheaval of their own, so seems to be the government. Violence threatens to erupt from under the surface and Ben unwittingly finds himself at the forefront of it all.As I read Frank Delaney's novel, I couldn't help but be entranced. The art of storytelling is in high gear in the novel, both as a theme running through the novel and the way the book was written. I would love to hear this novel narrated--I imagine it would be just as wonderful in the right narrator's voice. This book is definitely one I will be keeping around. I can see myself returning to it again and again, each time getting something new out of
bonsam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Every time I finished a Frank Delaney book, I declare it his "best yet!" And again I must say that Delaney has again spun a marvelous tale, this one better than the last. Really. In this, Delaney's tale of Venetia Kelly, he delves deep into his characters and folds their lives into the politics of the early 20th century that was a day-to-day part of Irish life. Fast paced, full of mystery and twists in the story's telling of characters so very human, good and very, very bad too.
witchyrichy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book isn't just set in Ireland in the early part of the 20th century. The narrator, the other characters, the politics all combine together to create an Irish book, written by a master Irish storyteller. He warns us about digressions and even labels them in their importance and I found myself looking forward to them. Yet, the plot itself, which pulled together classic themes, drew me along, and even now, the ending haunts me. It wasn't really historical fiction but I learned a lot about Irish politics and appreciated seeing figures like William Butler Yeats, Eamon de Valera, and John Millington Synge included in the narrative. One of the digressions tells the story of Riders to the Sea, my favorite Synge play.It was a great story interwoven with stories and I enjoyed every word! Yet, I only gave it four stars: I found the ending somewhat abrupt with the various threads coming together too quickly. After many pages of digressions and stories, it suddenly seemed to end.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My thanks to the Librarything Early Reviewer's Program, for selecting me to read this book. I would have bought it anyway had I not received it, because it's written by a very good author. Frank Delaney has given readers yet another fine story, one which takes place among the tumultuous events of his native Ireland's 20th century history, and one which, after you've read it, you won't soon forget. This is, of course, one of the main themes that run constantly throughout Delaney's books. This time, the action is centered on either side (before and after) of the general elections of 1932. It's okay if you know little to nothing about Irish political history; the author gives you enough background to make the time period and events understandable. Amid this political backdrop, Delaney introduces the reader to one Ben McCarthy, a young, naive 18-year old boy who little by little comes to be a man carrying the weight of his world on his shoulders. Ben's life, and that of his family, is altered forever by the entrance of Venetia Kelly and her Traveling Show. How this happens, and how it's connected to the 1932 elections is the main thrust of the story of this novel.Beautifully written, the novel slowly draws you in, keeping you there until the very last page. Delaney starts out with introductions to the principal players of this novel: Ben McCarthy and his family, who live a better life than many of their neighbors & acquaintances; Sarah Kelly, actress and mother of Venetia Kelly, and King Kelly, who lives by the golden rule, which for him is "the man with the gold makes the rules." (257) Throughout the story, the author launches into "digressions," in which he gives you some of the history, folklore and other cultural bits about Ireland, all perfectly relevant to the story, and to which you should definitely pay attention. As other reviewers have noted, it starts out a bit slow and may feel a bit sloggy at first, but you will be handsomely rewarded if you continue and do not give up. There are some wonderfully humorous moments in this book, which is also highly metaphorical in places , but Delaney does not hold back on the more frightening and sorrowful truths about the playing field of Irish politics and the lot of the poorer Irish people of the time. This one I can definitely recommend. If you don't care about the politics, that's okay -- there are other stories at work here that will keep you reading, but the whole is so much greater than its parts. Overall -- a very good read.
SUEHAV More than 1 year ago
Way too long and convoluted. Liked his others much more. Could have been half as long.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The storyline is odd, told by a narrator who provides more detail on Irish politics than the principals involved. The main characters display limited emotions, the reader never really gets drawn into the story. The ending is set for a sequel, but I didn't care enough to see if there is one .......
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago