Ireland – by Frank Delaney
Ronan O’Mara is a nine-year old boy who lives in rural Ireland with his mother, father, and aunt. The year is 1951. One day, a mysterious stranger – an older man – appears at the doorstep. Who is he? We don’t know. We know his visit is expected. Neighbors come over, and the stranger tells the family and their neighbors a story. Several stories actually. It seems this is the gift of the stranger. A storyteller. Ronan wishes the man could stay forever, but his impatient mother feels he’s outstayed his welcome after a few days, and the stranger leaves. There’s something about this man that has touched Ronan’s soul though, and Ronan can’t rest easy with the stranger no longer in his life. So Ronan begins a twelve year quest to find the stranger.
Now, before I go further, let’s go back to the stories that the old man told Ronan and company. These stories are quite a pleasant diversion from our “main” story. The stories that the stranger tells are about the people’s homeland and history -the history of Ireland. True, there’s a lot of myth, fable, and tradition within these yarns, but the storyteller knows how to enrapture an audience. It doesn’t surprise us in the least that Ronan can’t rest until he finds out where the man is after he leaves. At the very least, it would be nice to find out who he is.
Reading this wonderful novel allows you to suspend any sort of disbelief you may have. Is it really common to invite a complete stranger into your house for a week simply because he can tell stories? Is this man even real? Or is he a figment of young Ronan’s imagination? Does the existence of this character serve only to aid Ronan discover his destiny? Good stories really are rare, and Frank Delaney simply entertains us to the point that we simply don’t want to add too much logic within the pages we’re reading. These stories of Ireland that are juxtaposed through the pages are simply wonderful tales, and many times altogether too brief.
As Ronan embarks on his journey, he seems to be forever one or two steps behind the storyteller. But this doesn’t stop Ronan from hearing more of the stranger’s stories. Wherever Ronan goes, it seems he’s allowed to hear more stories from the stranger in many different forms. Sometimes, he hears the stories secondhand. Other times, the story teller leaves Ronan written tales that the storyteller composed for him to enjoy. It seems the stranger knows Ronan might be searching for him.
What makes this novel more pleasurable as that we also get to know Ronan and his family quite well. Had these extra tales not been thrown into the main storyline, this still would have been a terrific book. Ronan, like all of us, has his own life to live, and as the story progresses, we learn more about his own personal history and the events that shape his character. So maybe a great way to describe this book is “several wonderful stories told within a story”.
Although this book takes place in Ireland and all of the stories are about Ireland’s history, the overall feel is quite light. This isn’t a densely packed James Michener type of book. I feel that had author Frank Delaney wanted to write such a book, he could have easily done so, however. But overall, this book is rather light on the historical narratives of the country. The main objective here is Ronan, and his quest to find his calling.
I loved this book. As someone who reads quite a bit of fiction, I never take great writing for granted. The story is the point of a good book, but more important is how the author tells the story. How else could John Grisham become so popular? On the surface, dozens of books about the law profession don’t sound very exciting, but Grisham is a great storyteller.
And so is Frank Delaney. After reading this book (Summer 2018) I was sad to discover that Mr. Delaney passed away about a year ago. Fortunately, he has several other books that he penned (all seem to be somewhat related to Ireland), and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading more by this author.