I have been attempting to read The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney for several months, but I've been excited, anxious, and, quite frankly, dreading reading this book. Let me explain. The Last Storyteller is the last book in a trilogy about the incredible life of Ben McCarthy. Ben works for the Irish Folklore Commission collecting stories, anecdotes, home remedies, and lore. The riveting final installment of Delaney's Ben McCarthy trilogy focuses on the protagonist's folklore studies with legendary storyteller John Jacob Farrell O'Neill. O'Neill has honed his craft over decades of traveling all over Ireland. But my question is this: Does O'Neill's gifts go beyond mere storytelling? His prophetic stories he shares with Ben seem downright creepy as they immediately reflect unfolding events in Ben's own life.
I have so many conflicting emotions about Ben. I love him, hate him, cheer him, loathe him, admire him, despise him, well, I guess you get the idea. Ben is definitely an archetype....the flawed hero everyone loves because he's so relatable. And the reason I've been so anxious about completing this last book: I want a happy ending for Ben, darn it! And the key to his happiness: Venetia Kelley. We first learn of Ben in Venetia Kelley's Traveling Show. I do not like Venetia. She is the dangerous other woman, the woman who is aloof, self-obsessed, and reckless. She is an archetype, the woman all other responsible women fear. But if you love Ben (and I do) then you must tolerate Venetia.
"One day you have to tell the story of your own life," he said, "and perceive it as myth. When you can do that--that's when you've finally grown up."
The above quote is Ben's mentor James Clare's advice to Ben, and it's the central theme of the book. Once Ben finally acts upon this advice, he enables himself to heal, mature, and, finally, grow-up. I think the world would be a much better place if we all could accomplish this, but I think the tricky part is remaining true to the narrative.
Frank Delaney is probably our very best writer in the English language today. His books are among my all-time favorites. He is a gifted storyteller who always incorporates ancient stories and myths into his novels, and I love that about his writing. If you haven't read any of his books, then do yourself a favor and start reading them this weekend. But be forewarned that you won't get much else accomplished because you'll be unable to put them down. I wish I'd had the courage to have read this book last year. I bought it the day it was released, and it certainly would have made my Best Books of 2012 list.
You can read about the second book in the trilogy, The Matchmaker of Kenmare, here.
You can read about one of my very favorite books, Ireland, here.
Until next time...