Every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days. In kind fashion. A loving way. But there’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own. So if we’re to live good lives, we have to tell ourselves our own story. In a good way.
The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney which releases February 7 tells the story of Ben MacCarthy, a man who travels around Ireland for the Irish Folklore Commission, talking to the aging keepers of local stories and myths, and recording them before they are lost for all time. In between the marvelous stories of yore, Ben weaves the narrative of his own life in colorful prose with charm and warmth.
There’s real affection here for the people he encounters, his friends, his admired mentor, and he doesn’t shy away from giving us a full account of events in his own life, warts and all. He wants desperately to regain the love of his life, who is now married to an abusive, slimy stage magician.
It’s a blending of the mythical and factual, the poetic and the brutal. The warmth and affection for his friends and acquaintances is juxtaposed with the dark accounts of lives gone horribly wrong. Steeped in the mythology of the land, Ben is able to view events from a different vantage point, seeing parallels from the stories he records in the events of his own life. Nothing is sugar-coated; people make mistakes, take wrong turns in life, have regrets, try to put things right, sometimes successfully, other times not. Ben articulates his own dark side in a strikingly honest fashion. The book is written in a not quite epistolary fashion, but it is a final gift to his children, Ben and Louise, for whom he is writing all this down.
This is probably as close to Ireland as you can get without leaving home.
6 thoughts on “The Last Storyteller”
I’ll have to pick this up – as you know, I’d go to Ireland every weekend if it were closer, and the Irish storytelling tradition is dazzling. We saw an obscure little Irish documentary called “Knuckle” last week about bare-knuckle boxing among the Irish Gypsy community – they do this both as a form of gambling and as a way to address old, ongoing “blood feuds” among the traveller clans (it’s also called “fair fighting” because it follows the sort of “our best man fights your best man,” with referees and, oddly enough, certain rules that everyone respects – some of the gypsies say it is preferable to every member of one family jumping any member of the popposing family and beating him senseless, every chance they get) . Even such an odd, bloody story was presented as a fascinating, compelling bit of business.
This book is just lovely, even though some of it gets a bit rough. I laughed, I cried, I’m sure I’ll read it again. I hope you enjoy it!
The Travelers, or Pavee, are quite interesting. There was that famous incident of the woman in Indiana a few years ago who got caught on parking lot surveillance beating her child in the van, who turned out to be a Traveler. They definitely have their own code, and surprisingly (to me, at least) they are mostly devout Catholics.
Great review. I’m not a novel reader but you piqued my interest and I do have a thing for Ireland. I find it so romantic for some reason.
Sounds like a really good book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, DD.
Thank you, Susannah. Ireland is nothing if not romantic! I hope you enjoy the book, Frank is a wonderful writer. 🙂
You’re very welcome Tasha. I hope you can get a copy over there.
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