4 / 5
"Wonderfully, it was the boy who saw him first."
In the winter of 1951, a storyteller arrives at the home of nine-year-old Ronan O'Mara in the Irish countryside. The last practitioner of an honored, centuries-old tradition, the Seanchai enthralls his assembled audience for three evenings running with narratives of foolish kings and fabled saints, of enduring accomplishments and selfless acts -- until he is banished from the household for blasphemy and moves on. But these three incomparable nights have changed young Ronan forever, setting him on the course he will follow for years to come -- as he pursues the elusive, itinerant storyteller . . . and the magical tales that are no less than the glorious saga of his tenacious, troubled, and extraordinary isle.
I actually tried to read this book once before, right after I finished Mildred Pierce. For some reason (maybe it was the change in pacing from one book to the next?), I could not stick with it & my mind kept wandering! I was wary of trying again, but I have had it on my iPod waiting to be listened to forever, so I figured I should give it another go. I'm glad I did, too! It was a fascinating book. That might be heavily influenced by - as anyone who knows me well can attest - my infatuation with all things Irish. I love the Irish! I don't even know if I have a fraction of Irish blood in me (I've been told I may or may not - I'm that much of a mutt!), so it's not like I'm being patriotic for my home country or anything. I just love the scrappiness and spirit of the Irish, I guess. Plus, Irish boys. :)
In ANY case, I digress: the point is, I chose this book based solely on the title when I was browsing through my library's Overdrive selection. The premise sounded intriguing, so I loaded it onto my iPod and gave it a go (well, two, to be exact!). There were certainly slow moments to the book, and parts I didn't love - some of the stories got very deep into describing battle scenes and the like, and that just doesn't appeal to me; my mind ends up drifting away from listening to those parts. Additionally, I found I enjoyed most those stories which were based in reality, versus the fairy-tale feel of some of them. Overall, though, all of the stories were entertaining.
So. What was the book about, you ask? In the most basic description, it was about an Irish storyteller - or a seanchai, as they are called (I found a great video of what the old man probably looked like while telling his story!). This man travels the country, earning his room and board by entertaining the townsfolk he encounters. If he tells a good story, he is invited to stay longer, and thus have a place to call home for a time. He has no permanent address, no way to be found. It's a rather romantic idea, isn't it? Not something that would even be feasible today, but Delaney based his story in the 1950s. As someone on Goodreads rightly noted, this book was MADE to be audiobooked: I got to experience the closest thing to being in the room with a seanchai. The stories were made to be TOLD - not watched, not read on the page - so they were really well crafted for the aural venue. I'm glad I happened upon the audiobook version of the novel! The stories the old man tells begin with the earliest known Irish history and continue progressing until they reach the (relatively) present day - stories about everything, including the island's original clans, the British invasion, the IRA. I learned SO MUCH - about Irish history, and surprisingly about the origin of certain words & phrases, which as many know is right up my alley!
The book was also really well done in that it didn't just consist of a bunch of stories told one after another. The author really knew what he was doing: he kept things varied (and really interesting, as it examined the fading calling of storytelling as the world became more technological) by having the stories told not only from the teller's mouth, but also through the mediums of television, transcription, audio tape, letters, and even through other characters. The story revolves not truly around the old man so much as it does around the life of Ronan O'Mara, a young boy who first becomes enchanted by the storyteller at the impressionable young age of nine. He spends his life following the man, in various ways, and there is even a mystery intertwined with everything! Delaney really understood what was necessary to make what sounds like a somewhat dry idea into something so much more robust and read-worthy. I'd definitely suggest this book, especially to those who seek to broaden their knowledge about their own Irish heritage.
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