“Riveting . . . Readers will quickly warm to [Frank] Delaney’s vividly described Ireland of the 1950s, its fully realized inhabitants, and the dynamic political and personal relationships that make for a remarkable story.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“If we’re to live good lives, we have to tell ourselves our own story. In a good way.” So says Ben MacCarthy’s beloved mentor, and it is this fateful advice that will guide Ben through the tumultuous events of Ireland in 1956. The national mood is downtrodden; poverty, corruption, and an armed rebellion rattle the countryside; and although Ben wants no part of the insurrection, he unknowingly falls in with an IRA sympathizer. Yet despite his perilous circumstances, all he can think about is finding his former wife and true love, Venetia Kelly, who after many years has returned to Ireland with her brutish new husband, a popular stage performer. Determined not to lose Venetia again, Ben calls upon every bit of his passion and courage to win her back, while finally reconciling his violent past with his hopes for a bright future.
Brimming with fascinating Irish history, daring intrigue, and the drama of legendary love, The Last Storyteller is an unforgettable novel as richly textured and inspiring as Ireland itself.
“A colorful, leisurely tale, with dark moments as well as humor and grace.”—The Star-Ledger
“A magical tale [that] weaves in a jackpot of Irish myths.”—Bookreporter
“Character-rich and dramatic.”—Library Journal
About the Author
Hometown: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
Education:Thomastown National School 1947-54; The Abbey School, Tipperary, 1954-60; Rosse College, Dublin, 1960
Read an Excerpt
He comes back to my mind when I smell wood smoke. We had a clear and crisp October that year, and a simple white plume of smoke rose through the trees from his fairy-tale chimney. The long, quiet lane ended at his gate. My nose wrinkled as I climbed out of the car. Applewood? Not sweet enough. Beech? Possibly, from the old mansion demesne across the road. Could it be elm? Twenty years later it would be, as the elms died everywhere.
A white fence protected his small yard and its long rectangles of grass. He had a yellow garden bench and rosebushes, pruned to austerity. Around the side of the house I counted one, two, three fruit trees. If, on a calendar, a tourist brochure, or a postcard, you saw such a scene, with the golden roof of thatched and smocked straw, a pleased smile would cross your mind.
Not a sound to be heard, not a dog nor a bird. My breathing went short and shallow, and I swallowed, trying to manage my anticipation. Somebody had polished the door knocker so brilliantly that my fingers smudged the gleaming brass.
They said that he was eighty. Maybe he was, but when he opened the door our eyes came exactly level, and I was six feet three and a half inches. He shook hands as though closing a deal, and I was so thrilled to meet him at long last that my mouth turned dry as paper.
“Do you know anything about houses like this?” he asked as he led me into the wide old kitchen.
I knew everything about the house, I knew everything about him—but I wanted to hear it in his words, his voice.
“It feels nicely old,” I ventured.
He laughed. “Hah! ‘Nicely old’—I’ll borrow that.” Then, with some care, he turned to survey me, inclined his head a little, and smiled at me as though I were his beloved son. “I’m very pleased to meet you at last.”
I said, “I’m more than pleased to meet you, sir.”
He waved a hand, taking in the wide fireplace, the rafters, the room.
“This was what they called a ‘strong farmer’s’ house. Now with ‘all the modern conveniences,’ as they say. I suppose you know what a strong farmer was?”
“Wasn’t it somebody who supported his family from what he produced on his farm?”
“The very man,” he said.
He showed me the walls—two feet thick: “They keep in the heat for the winter, and they keep out the heat of the summer—those boys knew how to build. And look, I can put wide things on the windowsills.” He lifted a great bowl of jade, glinting with dragons. “Feel the weight of that. I carried it all the way back from Ceylon in 1936.”
Looking up, he stretched an arm and patted a beam.
“Did you know that people used to hide weapons in their thatch?” He had a habit of nodding when he made a statement, as though agreeing with himself.
Such endearing pride: he drew my attention to everything—the floor of huge flagstones, shaped by a local stonemason; the handmade chairs from a neighboring carpenter, who had also built the long table dominating the middle of the room. He rubbed it with his hand. “In the original they’d have used a timber called white deal. I had to settle for pine.”
“When did you buy the place?” I asked.
“Twenty-eight years, two months, and four days ago. When I finally came in off the road.” He surveyed the walls. “There was only the shell here. It was burned out by the redcoats in 1848—there was that bit of a rebellion that year, and evictions everywhere. When I bought it you could still see the black streaks at the top of the walls where they’d burned out the straw on the roof.”
He gave me the tour—but let me cut this short and give you the essential fact. This man, regarded (and jealously guarded) by the Folklore Commission as the most powerful remaining storyteller in the country, and possibly in the world, had restored fully an old farmhouse of considerable proportions. The conservationists, while allowing for the modern plumbing and electricity, had applauded him. “An elegant and authentic reconstruction,” they’d said, “solid, proud, and wholeheartedly traditional.” And that’s what I mean by “the essential fact”: the house was the man, and the man was the house.
He stood with his back to the fire. “So I’m to be yours now, am I?” he said. “How’s James doing?”
“I believe he’s holding on.”
Mixed feelings were always going to leak into this visit. For years, my superior, my mentor, otherwise so good to me, had kept this man for himself, and I had not been allowed to visit him, write to him, have anything to do with him. But now my mentor had bequeathed him to me because he himself, the inimitable James Clare, lay silent and still in Dublin, his lungs closing down day by day to emphysema. That morning I had made a note in my journal: I think that James will die soon.
“He won’t hold on long,” said Mr. O’Neill—full name, John Jacob Farrell O’Neill. “What color do you think Death’s face will be when it comes for James?”
“Gray,” I said, without thinking, “It’ll be gray.” I knew that color. From the war.
“That’s what I think, too.” He nodded, and turned his head around to look into the fire. When he turned back he said, “Then you’ll be ready.”
My mind asked, Ready for what?
Even though I didn’t speak the question, he answered it.
“Ready for everything.”
He couldn’t have known what “everything” would come to mean—or could he?
I wasn’t ready for anything—and in particular, not for the events of the next day, when I halted for a pub sandwich in the little town of Urlingford.
It was the siesta time, and raining. Nothing should have been happening, and nothing was. Using no energy, I eavesdropped on the silence around me, punctuated by snatches of idle conversation.
“They say she will.” This came out of the blue from an old coot at the bar, his nose hooked as Punch’s.
“I bet she won’t,” said his drinking companion.
“She told Midge Corcoran,” said the barman, “that all he wants to do is look at her.”
“God, then he’s paying dear for that,” said Punch, whose pal had wide-open nostrils like little gun barrels.
The pal said, “There’s fifty-two years between them.”
To which Ted, the fat and fatuous barman, said, “One for every week of the year.”
I knew these people well—not as individuals, but as a culture. Filthy old cords, worse boots, scant hygiene, no (you can bet on it) underwear. Every day of the week I saw men like them. Sitting at some bar everywhere, gossiping like knitters, stitching and bitching. Doing no work because there was no work, rarely a job that one could call a decent hire. Just sitting there talking. Talking, talking, talking. Or being silent. Silent in the hatred of their lives was what I’d always figured, until I realized that their emotions stood at zero. Their needles flickered only for sport or gossip.
In their faces I could see the blue veins of perdition, lines on a map of the country. That’s why I listened but kept my distance: I didn’t want to be infected with their ruin or catch their low-rent banality. Shallow as a saucer, they had no value to me in terms of what I collected.
Yet they caused some affect. For no reason that I could identify, I felt my chest tighten, and I heard the question in my mind: What’s making you anxious?
Ted the barman had a smarm to him, aiming to please everyone. In the past, before I’d mellowed down, I’d have needled him, picked a fight. The frosted glass panel beside me hadn’t been cleaned in a generation.
Most Irish pubs had a snug, a little room shuttered from the world, open only to the barman, where, typically, ladies were supposed to do their drinking because it was too indelicate for them to be seen in the public bar. Thus, I often found the snug a useful place to sit and listen.
My anxiety climbed. I fought a pricking of my thumbs and turned my ears inward. A frigid Saturday in late 1956, in my struggling, depressed native land.
Silence fell. We had a cough or two, a clink from a glass, a match being struck to light a cigarette. The rain no longer lashed the window. Weak sunlight spread a mild and yellow fire on the roofs of the houses across the street. With a clang of a latch rudely lifted, the pub’s front door burst open. Jimmy Bermingham flew in, landed, and came straight toward me. Thus began the most dreadful part of my life.
Once upon a time, and it was a long time ago, when boys were boys, and girls were girls, and bears combed the fur on their coats, and the soldiers of the north carried spears of ice, and giant frogs who spoke in rhymes ruled our hemisphere, there lived a man who had a love as noble as the mountains, and as deep as the deep blue sea.
The story John Jacob Farrell O’Neill told me on that night of my first heady visit to him took so long that we didn’t part until three o’clock in the morning. With the comfort of the chair by the fireplace, and the logs he kept heaping on the broad orange flames, I felt so safe.
“What’s that you’re burning?” I asked.
“Believe it or not,” he said, “cherry. For the aroma. I had an old cherry tree out the back—I tried for years to save it, but it wanted to go. And do you know what? When they took it to the sawmill they found a musket ball in the heart of the wood.”
From the mantelpiece he took down a small white dish, in which, like a little iron eye, rested the old musket ball. We marveled together.
He cooked for me. From a pot hanging over the fire he produced an excellent meal of lamb stew, with onions and carrots and potatoes. He moved around his large kitchen with the agility of a girl. The silver watch chain on his vest caught the light from the fire.
His various tics interested me. I’ve mentioned the nodding, though he didn’t nod after everything he said, and soon it calmed down—perhaps it was a shyness response. Now and then he fiddled with his breast-pocket handkerchief, rebunching it. When listening to me (not that I spoke much), he pursed his lips into a small bow.
I looked at him, thinking, but not saying, I wonder if he has always cooked, if he never married? And he said, “I’ve always cooked. You can’t have a wife if you spend your life on the road—’twould be unfair to a woman. So I never married.”
Here’s a note I made that night: Such a practiced voice, educated by the universe, every word clear and warm. But—he’s an uncanny man. Don’t yet know how or why.
James Clare had said to me: It all comes together in this fellow. He’s the culmination.
This is what James meant: in his years and mine, traveling as collectors for the Irish Folklore Commission, James and I had heard all kinds of things: herbal cures, rambling ballads, family curses, jigs and reels played on fiddles and pipes, nonsense verse, riddles and recitations—and, above all, stories. Call them legends, call them fragments of mythology, call them, simply, “lore”; they had become my staple diet.
Some descended from family traditions—a handed-down account, say, of a row over an inheritance. (Such tales, a few generations old, customarily began with the droll comment “Where there’s a Will, there’s a lawsuit.”) Others, probably most of the stories I collected, came from the deep and ancient past, from prehistory.
Frequently they had fused, and I’d heard many contemporary versions of tales first scribed by holy men of the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries. These clerics had been taught to write so that they could copy psalms and church doctrine, but they hadn’t been able to resist preserving the ancient stories they’d heard around their childhood firesides. (And perhaps they’d even invented a few.) Those epics became the basis of our literature in Ireland.
Most of the storytellers I’d visited hadn’t known or fussed over the provenance of their tales; they cared only for the telling. My man, though, had spent a lifetime drinking from all the fountains. He 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.
Furthermore, he truly did have tales from everywhere: material picked up during his travels in Burma, or Peru, from old men in Australia, or anecdotes of local history told to him here and there across the world.
Most exciting of all to me, I had always heard that he was from a mold cast in Ireland before the Romans had an empire. Meaning that John Jacob Farrell O’Neill was a fireside storyteller in the “old style”—he narrated in the ancient way: his voice orotund, his words full of ornament and color. He was a true, performing descendant of the bards who had entertained kings and chieftains long before Christ was born.
For that, and all the other reasons I’ve listed, he was, indeed, “the culmination.”
Children, you have asked for this final account of my life, and eagerly I give it to you. As you already know the terms of my Will—“I leave everything I possess to my beloved twins, Ben and Louise”—therefore we can, I suppose, call this a Last Testament. There’s no fear in me that I shan’t live long enough to finish it; I have more than enough energy.
In advance I ask your forgiveness for a somewhat jagged beginning to this, the final phase of my confessio. Yes, my tongue is in my cheek as I use that pompous old medieval term, but I think you’ll come to see why I chose it, and I think, I hope, you’ll also come to understand this early jaggedness you might feel; it is deliberate—because this is a sharp-edged and dark side of my life that I have to tell.
Already you know the essence of your father’s story, and that of Venetia, your dear mother, but there’s so much that you don’t know. For instance, John Jacob O’Neill: I placed him at the very beginning of this account. The reasons, as we go along, will become plain to you.
If you ask why I’ve never mentioned him in our conversations, I’ll confess the selfish truth. I feared that were I to share him—with anybody—I’d have dissipated his power over me. Even after my involvement with him had long ceased, I was afraid that I might lose the spirit of him in me, like those legends where the magic figure must disappear before dawn. And I was the mortal in that legend; in my middle years he put the final shape to my life.
What People are Saying About This
PRAISE FOR FRANK DELANEY
The Matchmaker of Kenmare
“A delight to read . . . with its memorable characters and variety of adventures . . . [The Matchmaker of Kenmare] burnishes this veteran writer’s reputation as a consummate storyteller.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Engrossing . . . Delaney again unspools a fine yarn, while providing substantive insights into history and human nature.”—The Star-Ledger
Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show
“Wonderful entertainment [that] encompasses Irish history and politics, a mystery, a quest, and a coming-of-age story . . . written with style and humor by a masterful storyteller.”—The Boston Globe
“Entrancing . . . Delaney unleashes a cavalcade of memorable characters worthy of John Irving. . . . Teeming with life and a sprawling, chaotic energy, [this novel] scores another goal for Delaney.”—The Plain Dealer
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There is nothing I like better than settling down with a good book. You know, the kind that not only has a great plot, but likable characters and good prose; one that will sweep you away to far off lands or time gone by. If you like this type of book then I highly suggest you read Frank Delaney’s The Last Storyteller. The book is the last of his Irish historical fiction and in my mind the best. Delaney interweaves Irish mythology into a story set in the turbulent 1950’s Ireland. He goes back and forth, as all good storytellers do, taking his readers with him. The book jacket suggests the book is about Ben, a collector of stories who finds himself caught up with rebellious gunrunners all the while trying to find his former wife and love his life the actress Venetia Kelly. If this name sounds familiar it is because she is the subject of Delaney’s previous book Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show. Yet the book is much more than this, it is a wonderful collection of mythology that Delaney says he either collected or made up himself. You cannot tell which is which. How to describe Delaney’s use of prose? This always eludes me when I am trying to convince someone to read one of his books. He is an author who can, in a few short words, describe a scene that would take others paragraphs. One of my favorite quotes from the book is from Ben as he sits in an Irish pub, “Using no energy, I eavesdropped on the silence around me, punctuated by snatches of idle conversation”. This is the type of style Delaney is famous for and why I continue to read his work. If you ever sat at the feet of a great storyteller and were awed by his ability to hook you in and keep you, then I highly recommend The Last storyteller.
The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney tells the story of Ben MacCarthy, by occupation a collector of Irish stories and lore. He travels the countryside, visiting the storytellers and recording the stories. As he travels he manages to also collect a poor, young girl fleeing her abusive family; a gunrunner for the IRA; and his much abused and beaten one-time wife. The supporting characters of this unlikely cast help fill in the rest of Ben's story. The chapters are very short, often only a page or two long, which makes the reading go fast. I think I was up to about the third chapter when I realized I was hearing the story in my mind, being told in an Irish accent. The dialogue is not written in dialect but the feel of the words; the cadence of the story is written as if being told by a master storyteller. Although I was rather lost for the first few chapters, soon the story drew me in and I found myself transported to the troubled Irish countryside of 1956. Despite the troubled times, and troubled people, that populate The Last Storyteller, it is not a dark or depressing novel. It was easy to become Ben's friend through the reading and adopt his accepting attitude. Sometimes he came off as a bit of a doormat but a loveable doormat, and he always managed to redeem himself. As Marian Killeen said "Ben had the greatest gift of loving." (pg 383) which, in turn, made him eminently loveable. The Last Storyteller gives the reader an understanding of this turbulant time in Ireland's history all wrapped up in lovely adventure. A very worthwhile read.
On the pages of “The Last Storyteller”, Ben MacCarthy, plays a multitude of roles and touches a vast number of lives. Set in the troubled Ireland of the 1950s, a time of IRA insurgency and government crackdown, Ben is the son of parents who embarrass him, annoy him, disappoint him, and whom he must reconcile to each other, all while their mutual love never flags and the unwilling accomplice in an IRA action and subject of a police search. Ben is the husband and lover of Venetia, the entertainer whose life he shares with others but whom he never stops seeking or loving. Ben is the protégé of James Clare, his mentor at the Irish Folklore Commission, who taught him how to collect and record stories and told him that “”There’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own.” Ben is the attentive student of John Jacob Farrell O’Neill, the consummate Irish storyteller, the seanchai and it is from O’Neill that Ben will learn his craft. Finally, Ben is father to Ben and Louise, the children whom he got to know and to whom this book is his confessio and apologia. “The Last Storyteller” is less of a book and more of a story. It is a story of a modern seanchai, Frank Delaney, a master of his craft and a magician with language. It is a story that takes the reader back to an Ireland of the past that is less idyllic but just as charming as we envision and into a life just as complex and just as enthralling as the land in which it is lived. In my reading I tend toward history and biography and rarely read novels. After a book like “The Last Storyteller” I think that I should pick up novels more often.
Frank Delaney’s latest novel, THE LAST STORYTELLER A NOVEL OF IRELAND is a book to be savored, an unforgettable story of love, joy, loss, danger. THE LAST STORYTELLER is a history of Ireland told in bits and broken pieces, bitter fact, story, and myth. I read it through once, then flipped back and forth, re-reading underlined passages, all the while basking in its spell. For make no mistake, Delaney is a prodigious weaver of words. It is 1956 and Ireland is again in upheaval, the nation, downtrodden. The mood is deep as Ben MacCarthy returns to the land of his birth in search of his love, the actress and mother of his twins, Venetia Kelly. While Ben searches for Venetia, he quests for truth, finds and helps his friends, learns the art of storytelling. Ben’s journey takes him from town to town, from pub to pub, through danger and gun running, to Limerick, through floods, to Dublin. The Shannon overflows; the stories do, too. Scenes explode with action and meaning. At times we think Ben succeeds in his quest only to have La Belle Dame flee. Forever? What better way to understand oneself, especially in times extreme, but through story? And it is through the telling of tales that meaning exists for Ben MacCarthy, not just in the words, but more importantly, in the poetry of his spoken story. As the author spins the story, the reader is caught up, fascinated. And the story becomes, in some inexplicable way, our story, too. Each reader will have her favorites, and for me this book is packed with poignant scenes, flesh and blood characters, major and minor—Randall Duff, “head like a hawk, eyes of fire,” Marian Killeen with her “complexion of cream linen,” John Jacob O’Neill, the sometime baker who “sifted, letting it flow like powdered fog through his fingers,” James Clare, and, of course, Gentleman James Stirling, the villain we love to hate. Do something memorable for yourself today: read this book.
There were some notable things lacking in Frank Delaney’s The Matchmaker of Kenmare, which surprised me, because Delaney is capable of writing, and had already written a nearly perfect novel (Ireland). What I didn’t know back then, is that Delaney was holding back. He was saving the big punches for his newest book,the final in the Ben McCarthy trilogy, The Last Storyteller. This novel, like Ireland, is everything an Irish novel should be. It’s funny at times, tragic at times and always a tiny bit epic (can something be a tiny bit epic?). It is full of the Irish legends and folktales that were so noticeably lacking in the last book. Those who enjoyed the first two Ben McCarthy books, will be very pleased with the final installment. The only negative feeling I took away from the book, was a little bit of sadness that Ben’s story had to end.
The Last Storyteller Frank Delaney What is a “Seanchai”? A Seanchai is an Irish storyteller, a bard, someone who maintains and relates Irish history verbally and by memory. Irish history has been passed on by these Seanchaithe traveling from village to village, telling their stories in the living rooms and kitchens of the rural Irish people for centuries. Ben McCarthy is an Irish story collector, employed by the Irish Folklore Commission traveling and collecting stories throughout the Irish countryside. Ben’s mentor, James Clare (another story collector), bequeathed his most precious resource to Ben while on his deathbed. John Jacob Farrell O’Neill was known as the most powerful remaining storyteller in Ireland (possibly the world), the last great Seanchai. Up until James Clare passed him onto Ben, James had jealously guarded John Jacob as his own. Now Mr. Delaney begins to weave a story of Ben McCarthy’s life while paralleling this journey with Irish stories told by John Jacob in the best of Irish traditions. Ben falls in love, marries his love, loses her, finds her again, skirts dangers with the IRA, arranges for the murders of 3 men, condemns himself for his actions and begins a path to redemption. This is but a short list of the travels and travails of Ben McCarthy. The reader is exposed to an intimate view of Ireland in the 1950’s, the hard lives of the Irish in the rural countryside, the violence and the subterfuge caused by the conflict between the IRA and the English. These narratives are full of Ben’s introspections as he faces one hurdle after another. My contention would be that it is near impossible for any human being to read this book and not be able to relate on many levels with Ben and his troubles. Not only can you relate, you learn more about yourself while enjoying the journey and you understand why these Irish folks looked forward to the visits of the Seanchai. In “The Last Storyteller”, Mr. Delaney has written a multi-dimensional novel that is enjoyed from several perspectives. Follow Ben’s journey while he is transformed into the next great Seanchai with the help of John Jacob O’Neill.
In this new chapter of Ben’s life, Delaney's intense narrative takes the reader into a splendid atmosphere of opposites: history and myth, violence and poetry, exhilaration and excruciating pain. It is time for Ben MacCarthy to face his past and defeat his worst enemy: his own pusillanimity. Every single aspect and person he comes into contact with seems to be telling him so, yet he remains a coward. But how can he risk rejection again, when life seems to be uncontrollably happening to him, and not at all in a pleasant way? His mentor is gone, the Irish Republican Army is rising, his parents are selling his childhood home and Venetia is back to Ireland. Regardless of The Last Storyteller being a sequence, it works perfectly as a standalone. Any relevant information about Ben’s past is sprinkled about, always in perfect harmony with the passage it is part of, thus enabling a new reader to enjoy the book without missing some of the details that make it wonderful. The Last Storyteller takes place in 1957, about ten years after the events of “The Matchmaker of Kenmare”, in an Ireland divided between those grateful for the independence gained by the south counties and those angered that part of the island is still under the English power. Ben is dragged into the fray by Jimmy Bermingham, a sort of friend one has to be really, really trusting to make and even more understanding to keep. Ironically, it is also through Jimmy that Ben comes to know Marian Killeen, a single, rich woman who plays a vital role in Ben’s decision to take Venetia back from Gentleman Jack. It goes without saying that tales of Ireland’s past are part of each chapter, but this time such tales are more than a background to paint Ben’s job. They seem to illustrate what Ben is about to witness taking place, either in a secluded village in the countryside or with nation-wide repercussions. Such tales complement the narrative beautifully and reminded me of why I fell in love with Delaney’s Ireland so many years ago. The recurring characters show a natural development from the first two instalments, and it is no surprise how much this is more prominent in Ben and Venetia. He is more mature, more obstinate, and less wimpy. She is more reclusive, more fragile, dealing with emotional scars accumulated during 25 years hoping Ben would come to her rescue. When he finally does, she struggles to overcome what has been ingrained in her soul: lack of confidence and trust. A highly delightful addition is the introduction of Ben and Venetia’s twins. Ben and Louise bring a gentle shift in the characters’ dynamics, not to mention it provided Ben with a new and definite quality of self-assurance. On the other hand, Marian Killeen has an important part to play and she comes out as independent and ahead of her time in some ways. However, I could not make myself like her. All in all, it is an enchanting book. Not only is it recommended to readers who appreciate a bardic storytelling but also to those who can relish the writer’s choice of words and their impact on the whole. The title fits Delaney himself and more than once I found myself wondering what aspects of his own life can be found between the lines. I make Delaney’s words mine by describing my experience reading The Last Storyteller: “I ceased to exist in my body, because as he rose to the high and wild climax of his story, my spirit ascended with him”.
Had the privilege to be asked to review Frank Delaney's newest novel. Though I have read all of his books to date, I have only reviewed one other, Tipperary, which was my first experience reading anything by Mr. Delaney.Reread my first review and was struck by how "timid" the review sounded. After reading the rest of his novels, I would like to trumpet Frank Delaney's story telling abilities from a few rooftops. Obviously, this would be impractical but I will post this review of "The Last Storyteller" to several sites online. Urging others to visit Ireland, learn a bit of it's history, experience much of it's wonderful character and enjoy (I smiled a lot) many tales taken from it's folklore, through the eyes of a wonderful Irish author.The title of this book "The Last Storyteller" is, for a reading person such as myself, a dire thought. Was raised on stories, both written and verbal, believe them to be a part and parcel of who I am, not wealthy in so far as material belongings but rich in ways that transcend money and things.Frank Delaney himself is a storyteller of the old school and this book is about such a storyteller. The story follows the life of one man who takes on the old profession of a traveling storyteller. But, this is a pretty simplistic discription. The book is so much more. The history of Ireland with all of it's drama, the character of the Irish people and the beauty of it's land are all drawn on the page by a an artist, a wordsmith I would say.To read this book is to travel and to meet new and interesting people. One will turn the last page having added immeasurably to their lives.This review comes with this warning.....if you read one of Frank Delaney's books, you will want to go back and read them all, as I did.Read this book ! Enjoy !Thank you for sharing the stories Mr. Delaney...may the "Storytellers" be around for a long time !
Here's the thing about Frank Delaney - when that blurb on sites like GoodReads and Amazon refer to him as "unparalleled" when it comes to Irish History, they aren't exaggerating.Delaney is the real deal.I've loved this series ever since reading the first page about Ben and Venetia in Venetia Kelly's Traveling Circus. I was drawn in by the whimsical, perfectly illustrated cover of that book, and since then I have been wooed and won over by the lyricism of Delany's storytelling ability. There are times when a writing is so powerful you can hear the accent, or the coloring of the speech, and it is that way with this book. When Delaney talks about the old storytellers, when he describes the way the voice sounds, the rising and falling of the rhythms, I feel transported, and am enchanted right along with the characters who, enviably, get to hear more than I do.That's right, I said enviably. It's not often I envy a character, but man.. This book made me do so.While I loved the continuation of Venetia and Ben's story, I have to say the diverging into the old tales (there was one story in particular that had me gasping - think banshee) is what made this book a treasure to me. I felt as if I were part of that privileged circle that gets to experience what it must have been like to listen to the Bard's of old.Mr. Delaney, thank you. You do those Bards credit - and personally, I think you should sign your name "Frank Delaney, Bard" from now on.
The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney tells the story of Ben MacCarthy, by occupation a collector of Irish stories and lore. He travels the countryside, visiting the storytellers and recording the stories. As he travels he manages to also collect a poor, young girl fleeing her abusive family; a gunrunner for the IRA; and his much abused and beaten one-time wife. The supporting characters of this unlikely cast help fill in the rest of Ben's story.The chapters are very short, often only a page or two long, which makes the reading go fast. I think I was up to about the third chapter when I realized I was hearing the story in my mind, being told in an Irish accent. The dialogue is not written in dialect but the feel of the words; the cadence of the story is written as if being told by a master storyteller. Although I was rather lost for the first few chapters, soon the story drew me in and I found myself transported to the troubled Irish countryside of 1956.Despite the troubled times, and troubled people, that populate The Last Storyteller, it is not a dark or depressing novel. It was easy to become Ben's friend through the reading and adopt his accepting attitude. Sometimes he came off as a bit of a doormat but a loveable doormat, and he always managed to redeem himself. As Marian Killeen said "Ben had the greatest gift of loving." (pg 383) which, in turn, made him eminently loveable.The Last Storyteller gives the reader an understanding of this turbulant time in Ireland's history all wrapped up in lovely adventure. A very worthwhile read.
The Last Storyteller was a very well written story about love and life. Frank Delaney¿s main character is very likable and real, and about as far from one-dimensional as one can be. Stil while the storytelling is grand and the language of the book is elegantly beautiful, my favorite thing would have to be the stories within the story that are told by either John Jacob Farrel O¿Neill or Ben MacCarthy himself. They were among my favorite parts of the book, and probably the most elegant of all the writings.While The Last Storyteller is part of a three-book ¿series¿, and I almost always insist on reading collections of related books from the first-the last or most recent. The Last Storyteller, however, truly does stand on its own- although I admit that I would like to read the other two books just because my interest has been peaked. While The Last Storyteller is fiction, it is so very easy to forget that when reading it- the story is told that well and that realistically. The characters are all enchanting and fascinating- I have to say by far I loved John Jacob Farrel O¿Neill. Whether you love the written language and the beauty of words, enjoy folklore from days past, or just enjoy reading a good love story, The Last Storyteller will satisfy a lot of different tastes-there¿s even murder and political tension all throughout it. This book was provided for me by the publisher at no charge, nor was I given compensationof any kind for this review. This review only reflects my personal opinion.
There is nothing I like better than settling down with a good book. You know, the kind that not only has a great plot, but likable characters and good prose; one that will sweep you away to far off lands or time gone by. If you like this type of book then I highly suggest you read Frank Delaney¿s The Last Storyteller.The book is the last of his Irish historical fiction and in my mind the best. Delaney interweaves Irish mythology into a story set in the turbulent 1950¿s Ireland. He goes back and forth, as all good storytellers do, taking his readers with him. The book jacket suggests the book is about Ben, a collector of stories who finds himself caught up with rebellious gunrunners all the while trying to find his former wife and love his life the actress Venetia Kelly. If this name sounds familiar it is because she is the subject of Delaney¿s previous book Venetia Kelly¿s Traveling Show. Yet the book is much more than this, it is a wonderful collection of mythology that Delaney says he either collected or made up himself. You cannot tell which is which. How to describe Delaney¿s use of prose? This always eludes me when I am trying to convince someone to read one of his books. He is an author who can, in a few short words, describe a scene that would take others paragraphs. One of my favorite quotes from the book is from Ben as he sits in an Irish pub, ¿Using no energy, I eavesdropped on the silence around me, punctuated by snatches of idle conversation¿. This is the type of style Delaney is famous for and why I continue to read his work. If you ever sat at the feet of a great storyteller and were awed by his ability to hook you in and keep you, then I highly recommend The Last storyteller.
The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney is the continuation and last novel in the trilogy that started with Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show and The Matchmaker of Kenmare. This story is told by Ben MacCarthy to his children in the form of a story. He tells his own story of the his time in the 1950's where he gets embroiled in the IRA as he is a friend to a sympathizer. He works as a 'collector' of stories and after he loses that job he goes on to learn more from another good friend until he is able to go out and be a storyteller himself. He also tells children of his search for their mother, Venetia Kelly, and his love for her. Even though he has been apart from Venetia for many years, he has never stopped loving and searching for her. I really enjoyed this series as I love Irish history. The stories and descriptions of the characters involved are so real and the "troubles" of the times so well told that I felt like I was right there . Mr. Delaney definitely has a way with words, truly eloquent indeed. I highly recommend this series for anyone who wants to escape into Mr.Delaney's world and even learn a wee bit about the Irish. Frank Delaney is also the author of Shannon, Tipperary, Simple Courage and Ireland.
I have read all of Frank Delaney's books and have enjoyed each one. I have followed the adventures of Ben McCarthy and Ventia Kelly throughout them. Although I am sorry to see their adventures come to an end, I am pleased to have closure regarding their lives and greatly appreciate the outcome. I eagerly await the next of his books. He is a superb author!
Frank Delany's books are some of my favorite. He is a great story teller!
Slow going, I usually read a book quickly but this one just could not keep me reading. Picked up at the end but I can not really recommend it.
The Last Storyteller is the third and final installment in the story of Ben McCarthy and his estranged, Venetia Kelly. The trilogy began with Venetia Kelly’s Travelling Show which was followed by The Matchmaker of Kenmare. Spanning two decades, through these novels, Frank Delaney has given readers a glimpse of Ireland and its rich culture. In this ambitious epic, Ben McCarthy is the main character. Venetia, his estranged wife, plays a larger role in this final book. The brilliance of this book and the talent of the author lies in the author’s ability to cover the larger scope of Ireland’s history such as the IRA and poverty while never losing sight of Ben whose own personal adversities evolve as the story progresses and the reader comes to understand his pain, his losses, and motivations. Although I encourage you to read all three of these intriguing novels, each one can stand alone because the author provides a complete background of the story so far at the start of each book. As I read through the stories, Ben MacCarthy, and the journey and adventures in his life, began to feel real to me. The Last Storyteller closes the trilogy with a completely satisfying ending. Frank Delaney is a master storyteller himself. His passion for Irish history is evident on each page that is intermingled with politics, adversity, and plenty of conflict. Never boring, always entertaining, and forever poignant, this was a trilogy on a grand scale. A highly recommended trilogy indeed!
What a delightful read this was! It is a constantly moving story that is wonderfully told by a master storyteller.
At a fairly late point in <i>The Last Storyteller ,</i> the protagonist Ben McCarthy says that, in times of acute pain and fear, people needed "something other than their norms." By this, he was referring to the power of stories to heal and unite people: "At one stride we had returned to a kind of spiritual paganism, an intense humanism almost, a reaching for primitive beliefs in the power of the human spirit to learn how to heal itself." (337) This is, at heart, what <i>The Last Storyteller </i> is about: the power of stories to unite and heal. The novel is the last in a trilogy that follows <i>The Matchmaker of Kenmare </i> and <i>Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, </i> and although there are hints of a prior story in <i>The Last Storyteller</i> --Ben's father's relationship with Venetia, and Venetia's abduction are all key to the plot of <i>The Last Storyteller</i> -- enough backstory is revealed for this novel to work as a standalone read. This is partly due to the way in which <i>The Last Storyteller</i> incorporates the rich backdrop of Ireland in the 1950s at the official start of "the troubles". This helps put the very personal events of Ben's life into an historical context. Ben himself is a perfect character, as <i>seanchaí </i> John Jacob O'Neill puts it, "a weak character who grows strong, because the best legends are those where we learn how to overcome what besets us." His character arc is revealed in narrative epistle as confession, self-revelation growing through the story of his life which he is telling and mythologising. Though he has his own backstory that is slowly drawn into the thread of his new story, Ben is instantly credible through self-deprecation and honesty as he reveals what he's lost and the pain, love and longing that motivates him. The descriptions he provides are detailed and poetic, such as this depiction of his dying mentor James Clare: <blockquote>The skin on his face had become rice paper. Thin lines I had never seen before ran down his cheekbones, small, ice-blue veins. His hair, dense as scrub, stood up, as uncombed as ever. Against the pallor of the skin, the insides of his nostrils seemed almost to glow red. And I saw, not for the first time, his deerline eyelashes. (100)</blockquote> The story is so quiet and full of sensation and observation that it's almost possible to forget how broad the landscape is that it covers as famine and poverty, IRA rebellion and government brutality divides the island through violence and anger. Ben too has reasons to be wretched through his desperate love story, however, the story is delivered after the fact, with a detached distant narrative, and like William Butler Yeat's Chinaman in "Lapis Lazuli", Ben's delivery remains Buddistically detached and warm. Throughout the story's progression, internal and external perception work seamlessly, focusing on the characters emotion through the details of each scene rather than on the external action: <blockquote>The piper ceased. Voices rose and fell in the muttered and stuttered litanies of obsequy. Some of the prayers ran away with the breeze. Dipping a round-knobbed silver pestle into a small silver bucket, the priest scattered holy water on the coffin. Now the loss began to bite. (105)</blockquote> Each line that makes up <i>The Last Storyteller </i> is tight, poetic, and so delicately dense that I suspect I could go through the short chapters with the same careful attention that Delaney is showing James Joyce in his Re:Joyce unpacking of<i> Ulysses, </i> and continually find new references and rhythms. Beyond the immediacy of Ben and Venetia's story, the IRA and Jimmy Bermingham's story, or the story of obsession around Elma and Dan Barry, and there are other tales too. There are the legends and stories that underpin every modern story and all of our lives. There is Malachi and Finn MacCool, King Billy, Diarmuid, the proud king who lived on an island off the coast of Munster, and many more tales that move smoothly around the globe and backwards and forwards in time. <i>The Last Storyteller</i> is a novel about the power of stories and about how they convey meaning and immortality to our lives. At one point Ben McCarthy is told that to tell a good story you need to use language with accuracy and elegance. Certainly this is what Frank Delaney does in <i>The Last Storyteller. </i> Delaney's linguistic toolbox is as well honed and polished as Ben's becomes and this, his own story, is one that will resonate with the reader well beyond the pages of the book.