Literary Friday: Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show

Synopsis according to Goodreads:
"January 1932: While Ireland roils in the run-up to the most important national election in the Republic’s short history, 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, Shakespearean recitations, 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, a quest that traverses the churning currents of Ireland’s fractious society and splinters the MacCarthy family.

Interweaving historical figures including W. B. Yeats, and 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, eventful decade.
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Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show is a unique book. It's a fictional autobiography that reads like a fireside story narrated by an old man. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author himself, which felt more fitting to the style. However, even then it took until chapter 80 for me to become invested in it. This story is definitely not for the easily-bored!


This story is heartbreaking. It's also an excellent glimpse into 1930's Ireland, especially the political turmoil of Ireland's earliest days of independence. It's also very, very long. And comprehensive- every character is realistic in their flaws and quirks and grey morality.


I recommend it for fans of autobiographies, realistic historic fiction, coming-of-age stories, and storytelling in general.

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