(Image from C/W Mars Catalog)
The Last Storyteller : a Novel of Ireland by Frank Delaney is a perfect example of how excellent storytelling can make terrible characters, meaning that they are not particularly nice or sympathetic people, interesting and worthy of reading about.
**SPOILER ALERT: reading farther may spoil the book**
This book is the conclusion to the Ben McCarthy Trilogy, following Delaney’s other books, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show (2010) and The Matchmaker of Kenmare (2011). Admittedly, I almost decided to not read this book since I did not particularly like the first two. I think that the love story of Ben McCarthy and Venetia Kelly is just a little too weird for me, what with them meeting because Ben’s father abandoned his wife and their family farm to follow Venetia and her traveling show around like a lovesick puppy, Ben and Venetia getting married when Ben was eighteen and Venetia was thirty-two, and then Venetia being kidnapped by her own father and loosing all contact with Ben for twenty-five years because they were both too stupid and immature to do anything about it for twenty-five years! In The Last Storyteller in particular I started to get very sick of how stupid and ridiculous both characters were being, to the point where I was almost disappointed at how neatly and happily their love story ended.
Fortunately, Delaney’s writing is so beautiful and powerful, especially during the many legends and lore that are told by various characters throughout the book, that this is still a worthwhile book to read. The first two books are not particularly interesting beyond perhaps some commentary of the political atmosphere at the time in Ireland, but The Last Storyteller has much to offer in terms of lessons about love, life, and the importance of the art of storytelling. This volume really chronicles the transformation of Ben McCarthy into a traditional, itinerant storyteller and as such touches upon a wide variety of tales to showcase various pieces of the Irish spirit and human nature on a broader scale.
While I would argue that Delaney’s first novel, Ireland (which I spoke of in an earlier post), does a better job of really encompassing all of Ireland’s history in its stories, this book contains a better master class in the art of storytelling with a better example of how everyone can apply storytelling to their own life. One piece of advice that is repeated throughout the trilogy but is featured at the end of this book is the idea that “One day you have to tell the story of your own life… and perceive it as myth. When you can do that – that’s when you’ve finally grown up” (p. 365). Delaney’s own mastery of storytelling really shows through when he is able to finally take this character through his own story, thereby displaying how even a non-heroic person can still be the hero of their own tale and how being able to approach life through the lens of a storyteller can give a very different perspective to both wonderful and troubling events.
On the whole, this book is similar in focus to Delaney’s first novel, Ireland, with its focus being on the art of storytelling and its importance to history and culture. However, whereas Ireland featured storytelling for its ability to capture and convey the history and spirit of an entire nation, The Last Storyteller features the ways that storytelling can heal on a much more personal level. It is also a really great example of a story about not-so-likable characters that is told in such a way that you cannot help but like the book anyway.
Delaney, F. (2012). The Last Storyteller : a Novel of Ireland. New York: Random House.