In prose that is by turns breathtakingly rich and devastatingly simple, Frank Delaney’s latest novel, The Last Storyteller, deals primarily in loss and love. And what else is there, really? It’s written as a letter from Ben McCarthy (also the protagonist of Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show and The Matchmaker of Kenmare, the first and second books in this trilogy) to his grown children; an old man’s apologetics on the topic of his life.
From Delaney’s website:
“Every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days. In kind fashion. A loving way. But there’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own. So if we’re to live good lives, we have to tell ourselves our own story. In a good way.” So says James Clare, 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 a fledgling armed rebellion rattle the countryside, and although Ben wants no part of the upstart insurrection along the northern border, he unknowingly falls in with an IRA sympathizer and is compromised into running guns. Yet despite his perilous circumstances, all he can think about is finding his former wife and true love, the actress Venetia Kelly.
This is the kind of novel that makes the reader feel as though she’s lived a lifetime between the front and back covers. Delaney is a storyteller’s storyteller—not for nothing did NPR bestow him with the title of “The Most Eloquent Man in the World”—and this story is crafted in a way that evokes the hearth, the firelight, the well-placed pause or MacGuffin of James Clare, the man from whom Ben learns his trade. No inexplicable coincidences, no sloppy storylines, nothing overwrought, and no stylistic stoicisms. Just humanity, in all its beauty and shame.
(A word of advice: While The Last Storyteller certainly works as a standalone, consider reading the trilogy in order. It makes the whole experience that much richer.)
Emma is a cheerfully obsessive writer, editor and creative gun-for-hire. She’s had a hand in all types of media, at every step in the process. Jack Move is her fifth from-scratch magazine. (Clearly, this has become A Thing.) She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son. Follow her on Twitter (@ealvarezgibson) and find out more at www.emmaalvarezgibson.com.