Venetia Kelly came into the world in a fashion of mythic proportions: “She sprang from the womb and waved to the crowd. Then she smiled and took a bow” (3). What do you say about a book that begins with such oomph? Set mostly in 1930s Ireland during a tumultuous political period, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show is one man’s attempt the understand how his world all of a sudden tumbled upside down. Writing the story as an aging man, Ben looks back to when he was eighteen years old and met the wondrous and compelling Venetia Kelly.
This book is so many things that it is difficult to capture in a short synopsis. It is a book about a young man who is asked to do things he should have never been asked to do; political development and upheaval during a time when the world was spinning faster than it was turning; young but forbidden love of two people who so belonged together but didn’t; storytelling–how can you have a book set in Ireland without storytelling? Ben is a wonderful narrator who spares no details in his stories, and even though he is a self-proclaimed digressor (one who digresses?) every bit of his story is intriguing.
I have very little complaint about Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show. I did have troubles getting into the story at first, much like I did with Delaney’s novel Ireland*, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. The writing, though sprawling, is very dense and detailed, and I found myself having to pay close attention to the story as small bits and pieces would resurface. But once immersed into the writing I found I wanted to read one more chapter and then another and then cursing that my lunch break was over and I’d have to wait to read more (the chapters are generally short and usually cliffhangery).
I think my 4.5/5 rating shows that I would highly recommend Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, but I’ll say it again. This book is a perfect blend of plot and characters and I was sad when I came upon the last page of the book. I was so caught up in the story and felt so much emotion for the characters that I even got misty-eyed over the ending. Narrator Ben explains at the beginning of the book that the story isn’t over and that was a tough pill to swallow, but in the end this was a very satisfying read–a read that satisfied my love of literature and beautiful writing but also my love of a good story that had me at the edge of my seat wanting to know more until I turned the last page.
*Back in my first week of blogging I wrote some thoughts of Ireland. It’s actually pretty funny to read now as I mention my tendency to ramble which has only gotten worse (?) as the years have gone on.