The Matchmaker of Kenmare

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.


Filed under Books, Fiction

10 responses to “The Matchmaker of Kenmare

  1. Oh I hate ‘little did you know’ books. Delaney used to front one of our weekly radio bookshops here in the UK and I believe he stopped in order to write full-time. The general feeling has always been he shouldn’t have given up the day job and it seems as if you’re coming to the same opinion.

    What’s this about a visit to Ireland? Are you crossing the Irish Sea as well?


  2. Too bad the book turned out only so-so. but how fantastic that you and Hobgoblin will be getting to take that tript to Ireland!


  3. Nan

    Lucky you! I’ve heard Dingle is simply wonderful. Expecting many blog photos! I feel the same way you do about that type of storytelling. I don’t think I would have been able to finish.


  4. Michelle

    It’s funny how annoying an intrusive narrator can be. I find it more surprising when this kind of narrator can actually add to a book. But in any case, hooray for a trip to Ireland!


  5. The premise of the book sounds like fun, but the heavy foreshadowing would have bothered me, too. At least you got a taste of the setting. It’s so exciting about you and Hobgoblin going to Ireland. Are you going to read more Irish authors in anticipation?


  6. Your trip is going to be awesome. I don’t know very much about Ireland but am looking forward to hearing all about it. I want to know too what Danielle asks: are you reading more Irish authors in anticipation?


  7. Oh what a shame! It does sound like a good premise. Really, where are the editors? It’s easy enough to take out such heavy handed signposting.


  8. Annie — Ireland for two weeks while Hobgoblin teaches a course for his university, and then a week in London — yay! I’m very excited as I’ve never been to England or Ireland before. Interesting background to know about Delaney. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks he should have kept his day job!

    Stefanie — I know! We are very excited. It’s kind of hard to believe, since we’ve waited longer than we expected to be able to go.

    Nan — I’ve heard that too about Dingle. Everyone says we will love it, and I’m inclined to believe them! I’ll have to remember about photos; I end to forget 🙂

    Michelle — yeah, it’s possible to do it well, I think, but difficult. Well, actually, I like intrusive narrators, having spent tons of time reading 18C novels, but today it’s harder to pull off, and definitely the older person looking back at their life is a tricky form.

    Danielle — I’ve read a few Irish authors already over the last few months (Dierdre Madden, Paul Murray, as well as Delaney). I’m not sure I’ll read more or not, although Hobgoblin just bought another Paul Murray novel last night, and I have some Irish authors in my TBR stacks. We’ll see!

    Debby — I’m sure you will hear all the details! I’m not sure about reading more Irish authors, but perhaps I will take some of their books with me to read on the trip. Between now and then I have tons of other books I need to read first.

    Litlove — yes, indeed, this one needed editing. Taking out even some of the “little did I know” moments would have helped. He just didn’t do much with the structure of older person looking back at younger life. The story would have been better without it.


  9. Thanks for the hones review. I’ve had his work on my TBR list forever and now I may just put him off entirely.


  10. kimbofo

    Dorothy, just butting in to say I hope you have an awesome time in Ireland. You will love Dingle; it’s one of my favourite places on the planet! I went there in 2001. Photos here if interested

    I’m actually off to Ireland tomorrow and will be covering lots of good literary things for my blog. Really looking forward to it — especially all those creamy pints of Guinness.


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