From a land famous for storytelling comes an "absolute masterpiece" -- an epic novel of Ireland that captures the intimate, passionate texture of the Irish spirit.
One wintry evening in 1951, an itinerant storyteller -- a Seanchai, the very last practitioner of a fabled tradition extending back hundreds of years -- arrives unannounced at a house in the Irish countryside. In exchange for a bed and a warm meal, he invites his hosts and some of their neighbors to join him by the fireside, and begins to tell formative stories of Ireland's history. One of his listeners, a nine-year-old boy, grows so entranced by the story-telling that, when the old man leaves abruptly under mysterious circumstances, the boy devotes himself to finding him again.
Ronan's search for the Storyteller becomes both a journey of self-discovery and an immersion into the sometimes-conflicting histories of his native land. As the long-unspoken secrets of his own family begin to reveal themselves, he becomes increasingly single-minded in pursuit of the old man, who he fears may already be dead. But Ronan's personal path also leads him deeper and deeper into the history and mythology of Ireland itself, in all its drama, intrigue, and heroism.
Ireland travels through the centuries, interweaving Ronan's quest for the Storyteller with a richly evocative unfolding of the great moments in Irish history, ranging from the savage grip of the Ice Age to the green and troubled land of tourist brochures and political unrest. Along the way, we meet foolish kings and innocent monks, fabled saints and great works of art, shrewd Norman raiders, strong tribal leaders, poets, politicians, and lovers. Each illuminates the magic of Ireland and the eternal connection of its people to the land.
A sweeping novel of huge ambition, Ireland is the beautifully told story of a remarkable nation. From the epic sweep of its telling to the precision of its characters -- great and small, tragic and comic -- it rings with the truth of a writer passionate about his country and in full command of his craft.
Beneath all the histories of Ireland, from the present day, through her long troubled relationship with England and back to the earliest times, there has always been another, less obvious reporter speaking - the oral tradition, Ireland's vernacular narrative, telling the country's tale to her people in stories handed down since God was a boy.
This fireside voice took great care to say that imagination and emotion play their parts in every history and therefore, to understand the Irish, mere facts can never be enough; this is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination.
But we all do that, we merge our myths with our facts according to our feelings, we tell ourselves our own story. And no matter what we are told, we choose what we believe. All 'truths' are only 'our' truths, because we too bring to the 'facts' our feelings, our experiences, our wishes. Thus, storytelling - from wherever it comes - forms a layer in the foundation of the world; and glinting in it we see the trace elements of every tribe on earth.
Wonderfully, it was the boy who saw him first. He glanced out of his bedroom window, then looked again and harder -- and dared to hope. No, it was not a trick of the light; a tall figure in a ragged black coat and a ruined old hat was walking down the darkening hillside; and he was heading toward the house.
The stranger's face was chalk-white with exhaustion, and he stumbled on the rough ground, his hands held out before him like a sleepwalker's. He looked like a scarecrow deserting his post. High grasses soaked his cracked boots and drenched his coat hems. A mist like a silver veil floated above the ground, broke at his knees, and reassembled itself in his wake. In this twilight fog, mysterious shapes appeared and dematerialized, so that the pale walker was never sure he had seen merely the branches of trees or the arms of mythic dancers come to greet him. Closer in, the dark shadows of the tree trunks twisted into harsh and threatening faces.
Across the fields he saw ...
Delaney mixes myth, magic and history in a book that displays his obvious love for Ireland. The tales told by the storyteller work as a body but can also be enjoyed individually, while Ronan's coming of age story provides a continuous thread.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (472 words).
Broadcaster and writer, Frank Delaney is the author
of at least sixteen books, both fiction (such as The Sins of
the Mothers - 1992) and non-fiction (such as James Joyce's
Odyssey and The Legends of the Celts) - but this is his
first book to be published in the USA.
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