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Merle

Merle

Ireland - Frank Delaney Delaney's use of voice in this novel is excellent, as is the massive amount of local flavor with which he imbues his writing. That's the best I can say about this book.

As you probably already know, Ireland attempts to tell the story of Ireland (surprise, surprise): about half the novel is a frame story set in the 1950s and 60s, concerning a young boy, Ronan, who meets a traveling storyteller and is captivated by Irish history. The other half consists of the stories themselves, told by various people (the storyteller, Ronan, a history professor, various people Ronan meets as he tries to find the storyteller again). The stories are almost all quite short and come in sequential order as we move through history. I'm impressed by just how much Delaney takes this framework to heart: never for a moment does he forget who's telling a story, and the reader will know too, simply by reading a few sentences of it. The local flavor comes in when we're reading the frame story; the places and local characters we meet in it couldn't feel more real.

Still, though, I was disappointed. As a novel, Ireland didn't work for me. The frame story takes up a lot of time and was reasonably interesting, but Ronan was a jerk and there wasn't enough substance there to justify the time spent on him. And the sheer number of words Delaney's characters spent lavishly praising the embedded short stories (written by Delaney) felt self-indulgent. Most of the short stories themselves, meanwhile, didn't work for me. I freely admit that I'm not a short-story person, and had I realized quite how short they would be, may not have read the book (the first story is 40 pages, but after that the average is probably around 12). There simply wasn't enough there in terms of plot, character development, historical information or anything else, for me to care about them. Paradoxically, I think this is what makes so many people like the book--the fact that the stories tell you more about the storyteller than the content of the story, and what that tells us about our constructions of history. It is interesting, and had I been looking for thematics rather than a novel that would suck me in and teach me about Irish history (this one didn't teach me much; someone who's already familiar with Irish history might appreciate it more), I might have liked it better.

Maybe I'm not being fair to this book; my criticism comes more from what I wish it had been than any serious flaws. Nonetheless, potential readers should know that Delaney's Ireland isn't for everyone.