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Frank Delaney
Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-400-06523-3
Publication Date:11-06-2007
464 Pages; $26.95
Date Reviewed: 12-13-2007
Reviewed by: rick Kleffel © 2007

Index:  General Fiction

When I first saw 'Ireland' by Frank Delaney, it was hard to let it go. I like a fat historical novel now and again, and this looked to have the right density and correct length to provide that go-somewhere-else immersive experience. No need to turn up the furnace on chilly evenings. His newest novel, 'Tipperary,' is just overheated enough to warm the coldest hands, and charming enough to hang around in for nice winter's week.

"Be careful about me," Charles O'Brien, one of the novel's narrators tells us. It's easy enough to be wary of this garrulous storyteller. The tone is hardwood rich and shiny, the prose warm enough to bring a light sweat to the unprepared brow. O'Brien is an Irish Everyman, an understated and overwritten hero. But he's the one telling the story, and it's hard not to both like a believe him. He's not a firebrand, but a well-spoken gentleman who is just outside the forces that swarm through early 20th century Ireland. He's confident, not overly so, and the sort of man who ends up meeting the likes of Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. He's pretty sure you're going to like him, but manages to avoid being smug. Delaney's prose is perfectly pitched here, with the combination of formality and intimacy that the character and the events demand. This is not to say that some readers won't find O'Brien a little over-the-top. But the flow is fast and complicated and full of choice details. It's easy to let go.

And that's when you meet another man, a man of our time who has found O'Brien's manuscript and serves it up to us, interspersed with his commentary. That's the time when this reader starts to really perk up, because the presence of two narrators so well balanced and placed against one another, suggests a plot and creates a tension beyond the wide-open non-confining confines of O'Brien's pixilated life story. We're hearing that story for a reason that is compelling to an equally literate yet more demure storyteller. Give yourself a chance and you'll be swept away.

Moreover, you're going to learn a lot about a slab of history you may or may not be familiar with. I'm the latter, so getting to learn the details and big stories that shaped Ireland is a pretty big bang for me. Delaney does a great job of filling in the timeline without too much obvious lecturing. And when the lecture come — oh yes, they come all right — well, that's what you signed up for, innit?

Delaney has one essential quality that keeps him above the fray, a sense of wonder that would not bee out of place in a science fiction or fantasy novel. Of course, these days, lots of fantasies are little more than imagined histories; this is history imagined anew, and has a similar feel. Ireland is a land of imagination and magic; Delaney is both careful and able to capture it with the kind of prose that you can almost hear him reading aloud.

You may or may not think you like this sort of book. And Delaney, as O'Brien, knows this. He plays his hand carefully, fully, sometimes even flamboyantly. He smiles. You smile. It's a big fat life out there and in there. What you realize as you read 'Tipperary' is that your life is just as full, just as complex. And that somebody probably needs to be careful about you.

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