I have often heard it said of a writer, “that man has the gift of the Irish,” referring to a particularly eloquent writer, or a writer who creates his own pulse to your heart. Frank Delaney has the gift of the Irish. This novel traveled with the wind – until the last chapters, where it went off the leeward side, listing badly.
Prose reminiscent of “The Dubliner” begins “The Matchmaker of Kenmare.” Ben MacCarthy has lost his beautiful wife Venetia. He knows not whether she is alive or dead. With nothing – and everything – to mourn, he downs himself in drink. Working for James Clare, the head of the Irish Folklore Commission, Ben meets Kate Begley, an Irish matchmaker with special gifts. She grips his heart. A scholarly, quiet man, Ben states that Kate “belonged to the demotic.” And Kate knows that she is full of magic and power, and owns it.
With a voice so searing that it flames the reader like a torch, Ben follows Delaney’s lead. We fall into the narrator’s inside out life, his transparency of grief a negative. The onslaught of power of voice and narration enthralls us – and Kate. Ben tells his tale to his two children as an old man. Reading from Kate’s journal, of which he is custodian, his own notes and memory, Ben makes it clear that Kate has captured his heart, although she gives hers to another. The collective Irish consciousness permeates Delaney’s wit and prose, as Ben writes down Irish folk tales and watches as Kate mesmerizes everyone she meets, as she propels them into marriage. Frank Delaney is a writing fool, and we are his happy guests into the surreal and the profound.
1939, Ireland, a country that has declared itself neutral in the war between Germany and England. Kate meets American Lt. Charles Miller when he visits her grandmother’s house. Mrs. Holst, the matriarch grandmother and Kate’s teacher, approves as Kate flirts and dances around the American Special Operations intelligence officer and on that first day they strike a deal. Kate will become a spy for the American forces for Miller, and Miller will marry her. As Ben watches, he plummets to an abyss that he cannot explain, for is he not searching for the love of his life, Venetia? Ben watches aghast as Kate works her magic and finds the German that Miller has instructed her to find in France by searching a needle over a map. The needle points to where Hans-Dieter is living. Dieter, an old friend of Kate’s with a home in Derry, needs no persuasion to return with Ben and Kate to Ireland and Miller. He happily comes home without a second thought to his high level German position, as he is pulsed with grief over the death of his wife, and the hopelessness of war, and agrees to tell the Americans all that he knows. And Kate calls in her winning hand. Capt. Miller marries. Ben, still seeking Venetia, realizes how he has lost Kate, and yet he remains friends with Miller. And Ben begins to weave the threads of his emotional turmoil into a long skein of trailing after Kate.
Swept up into WW II politics, Delaney never misses a beat with his strange, haunting echoes of ocean and tide, ebb and flow. Reading Delaney is like falling into a dream; succulent prose, immutable imagery, emotional nuance of great depth, he depicts the Irish in all of their complexities and humanity, in paragraph after lilting paragraph. His is the music, the song of prose.
As Delaney probes Ben’s soul, we learn that Ben’s father had been Venetia’s lover. Ben had gone to bring his Father back to his Mother, and then fell in love with his father’s lover and married her. The rift has caused drifts within his familial relationships, but when his mother asks him if there is a grandchild, he doesn’t know. And he and his father make a peace or sorts before he leaves to attend to Kate.
Ben has made Kate a promise that he will follow her and protect her when she needs him. As Kate begins her search for Captain Miller, who she fears is wounded, they travel through war torn Germany and are caught by the Germans. Miller has attempted to kill a High Commander, and Kate and Ben are caught on the updraft. Placed into a situation that places them as betrayers and victims by the Germans, Kate never misses a beat. She believes in her fate, and her fate is Charles Miller.
Suddenly, Delaney goes south, his plot shattering like blarney on the blarney stone. Ben sees Venetia in Florida where he goes to find her – and Venetia tells him she telegrammed him many times. Suddenly Ben knows that his parents threw the telegrams away. She has now remarried and she and Ben have twins, Ben and Louise. Ben walks away as Venetia beseeches him to speak to her, and meet his children. Subsequently, Kate buys a giraffe and opens a matchmaker “shop” in Kansas, waiting for Charles. She and Ben reconnect and plan to marry. Ben goes back to Derry to close up Kate’s cottage – and finds a demented Charles demanding that Ben tells him where Kate resides. Ben takes him back to Kansas, and ignores all letters from Mrs. Holst and Kate. He then remains alone. This did not fit the character of the Ben from the entire novel, and as he tells his children his story, I faltered, with a plot that went into the surreal instead of the mystical magical tale I had been reading. But that is my thought, readers – you might feel differently.
As Delaney creates and captures the myth, the blarney, the magnificence of the good and bad in all humans in war, we are caught in the drifts and crannies of Ireland’s ocean swept cliffs. Daring, bold, magnificent, Delaney’s saga sweeps to an ending that tears us apart. Delaney, after all, has the gift of the Irish.
The Matchmaker of Kenmare: A Novel of Ireland is available for purchase nationwide.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Overall: 4 (would coulda been a 5+
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.