Monday, April 26, 2010

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show--Frank Delaney (book review)

Venetia Kelly is a young ventriloquist with charm that draws everyone in. When Ben MacCarthy's father, a stalwart Irish farmer, leaves his home and family to follow her traveling show across Ireland, Ben's mother sends him to find his father and bring him home. Each time he falters or fails, the stakes get higher, and he presses on.

Delaney tells two coming-of-age stories: that of young Ben MacCarthy, and that of Ireland in the 1930s. The text interweaves the threads through a series of fascinating "digressions," as the narrator calls them.

There's so much to like about this book. But, I found myself holding back, disconnected from both the characters and the plot. I blame foreshadowing.

When done well, foreshadowing gives just enough of a taste of what's to come to pull the reader further into the story. Judging from other reviews, Delaney's style had this exact effect on many readers. But it seems I'm a strange bird. I won't read thrillers because of their deliberate disaster-just-around-the-corner.... wait for it! Wait for it! taunting. I would much rather traipse through the protagonist's world alongside him, and later be devastated by a betrayal, than to stay emotionally distant from certain characters or situations because I've been told it will all go wrong soon. Kind of like the author inserting his own little spoilers right into the text.

I did appreciate many things about the book though: Ben's storyteller friend's periodic reinterpretations of the narrative to make it into the stuff of which legends are made; the colorful characters Ben meets on his quest through Ireland; the use of a ventriloquist's dummy as both a character and a political commentator; the narrator's self-deprecating sense of humor. It all adds up to an enjoyable tale with a bit of Irish history thrown in for good measure.

By Alison Jakel

This book was provided for review by TLC Book Tours. The opinions expressed in this post are solely my own and have not been approved or influenced by TLC book tours, the publisher, or the author.


  1. I don't know why, but everytime I see this book cover, I think WIZARD OF OZ.

  2. Lenore I just thought the same thing!! I think it is the title font! Sounds like an interesting read. Although I agree with you, I like foreshadowing when it is subtle, but when it hits you in the face it is not so good.

  3. I listened to the audio version of this book and enjoyed it. The author's voice is wonderful.

  4. Hi Ali, I'm glad that you ultimately found the book enjoyable. Thank you so much for being on the tour.

    I've been reading a lot of YA and middle grade stuff lately and a lot of it has a ton of foreshadowing (wait for it..). Some I like, but too much is, well, too much. Seems like it's really overdone in the middle grade stuff, especially.

  5. i don't enjoy books that are heavy-handed with the foreshadowing. like you, i'm game to skip along with the protagonist, blissfully unaware! in some genres--mystery, thrillers--foreshadowing is a necessary evil but in other books i'd prefer to be in the dark.