Frank Delaney’s novel The Matchmaker of Kenmare didn’t strike me as a particularly good book, although I found myself absorbed in the last 100 pages or so wanting to know how things turned out. But I did enjoy it at times because it’s set in the part of Ireland Hobgoblin and I will be traveling to this May (we were supposed to go last year but the trip got canceled — this year it’s on — yay!). We will be staying in Dingle, which gets a mention now and then, and much of the action takes place on the coast and in the countryside near our little town. It was fun to read about the place we will be staying.
As for the novel itself, it’s set during World War II and tells the story of Ben McCarthy, a folklorist who travels around the country collecting stories and is trying to recover from a broken heart after his wife mysteriously disappeared, and Kate Begley, the matchmaker of the title, a young woman learning how to ply the matchmaking trade from her grandmother. The two meet and strike up a somewhat combative friendship. They meet the American intelligence officer Charles Miller, and Kate falls in love. She also starts working for Miller, or so Ben surmises as he watches them having mysteriously intense conversations. Kate’s involvement with Charles takes them first to London, and later into France, Belgium, and Germany. Even though the war is winding down and Ben and Kate are partly protected by Ireland’s neutral stance in the war, they find themselves in way over their heads.
It was interesting to read about how the war affected Ireland; it remained neutral throughout, but was still in danger as both England and Germany saw it as important strategically. The characters have to figure out what they think about both sides and how they can best protect themselves. The work the two characters do when they aren’t off on their war escapades is also interesting, both the stories Ben hears and records and the couples Kate brings together.
The problem with the book, I thought, lies in the way the first person narrator, Ben, tells the story. He is writing to his children from the vantage point of old age, filling them in on his life story, and he constantly hints in ominous tones about the very exciting things that are about to happen. We get lots of comments of the “little did I know …” variety:
That was the moment at which two strangers walked into the dance hall — and that was the beginning of so many things, and the continuation of so many things, and the end of so many things….
A couple of hours later, when the afternoon had grown quieter, the rest of our lives began. We all heard the engine, we all listened from our respective chairs, and I swear to this day that I knew who had arrived — the two young American soldiers from last night. A third man rode with them, and he was the world changer….
Indeed I can say now that however rambling they may seem, my Digressions will serve a purpose.
I think you get the idea. The book would have worked better if told in a more direct manner, without all the editorializing from the older version of Ben. I’m fine with the set-up of a character telling his children the story of the most exciting part of his life, but it needs to be done in a much smoother way and it needs to keep the reader more consistently immersed in the action.
The book does have its pleasures — as you can imagine, the love triangle that develops between Kate, Ben, and Charles is consistently interesting — but, unfortunately, the quality of the writing kept interfering with the fun.