The human face does not always reflect the beauty that may repose in the soul.
— from Shannon by Frank Delaney (2009)
Also, the weakness of the title character in this book–Robert Shannon–does not reflect the quiet strength that runs through this story. Robert Shannon was a young priest, a chaplain in the US Marines during WWI, and he came home damaged, a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. As a questionably-unwise part of his treatment he is sent alone to Ireland, his homeland, to search out his ancestors. His journey takes him up and down the banks of the swiftly-flowing Shannon River.
I love the slow way the book moves forward, accelerating as Robert himself heals. There are scary war scenes I don’t appreciate much (especially right before bedtime), and the politics of the Catholic Church isn’t something I care much for, but the characters themselves are fabulously complex and richly drawn.
This is my second Delaney book, and while I don’t think I can read two in a row (they are a slow sort of book that need time to settle), I’m definitely open to reading more someday.
On a Christmassy note, doesn’t the above quote work well for baby Jesus? Lots of beauty there even though He probably looked like an ordinary wrinkly-red baby. The quote also makes me think of Mary treasuring up these things in her heart. Are the things I treasure up beautiful? Do I keep lovely things stored up inside? I should work on that more!
A story has only one master – its narrator; he decides what he wants his story to do. I know, I have always known, what I want my stories to achieve – I want to make people believe. Believe what I tell. Believe in it. Believe me. Belief is the one effect I’m always looking for… I must believe ancient Ireland as I describe it. The swords really did ring loudly off the shields. And the armor surely gleamed in the sun.
— from Ireland by Frank Delaney, 2005
I enjoyed this long, meandering novel more for the storytelling aspect than for the Irish history. As one boy grows up and follows (or tries to follow) the career of the last traveling storyteller in Ireland, the stories he comes across, either from the storyteller himself or from the other people he comes in contact with, unravel the history of a country. A secret concerning the boy and the storyteller also builds until it is finally revealed at the end.
My favorite story in the book is about two monks who create the beginnings of a great illuminated gospel as part of a contest to see which monk should be the next Abbott. The two monks are so very kind and generous, and also very creative and good at their work. The voting of the best illuminated page at the end of the story turns out a tie because everyone voted twice. So the monks rule the abbey together.
This was a good find at the library. There are more by this author, so I might read another one someday when I’m in the mood for a long, rambling story.