Review: The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney
From Goodreads: “And there’s a legend—she had only vague details—that all couples who are meant to marry are connected by an invisible silver cord which is wrapped around their ankles at birth, and in time the matchmaking gods pull those cords tighter and tighter and draw the couple slowly toward one another until they meet.” So says Miss Kate Begley, Matchmaker of Kenmare, the enigmatic woman Ben MacCarthy meets in the summer of 1943.
As World War II rages on, Ben remains haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his wife, the actress Venetia Kelly. Searching for purpose by collecting stories for the Irish Folklore Commission, he travels to a remote seaside cottage to profile the aforementioned Matchmaker of Kenmare.
Ben is immediately captivated by the forthright Miss Begley, who is remarkably self-assured in her instincts but provincial in her experience. Miss Begley is determined to see that Ben moves through his grief—and a powerful friendship is forged along the way.
But when Charles Miller, a striking American military intelligence officer, arrives on the scene, Miss Begley develops an intense infatuation and looks to make a match for herself. Miller needs a favor, but it will be dangerous. Under the cover of their neutrality as Irish citizens, Miss Begley and Ben travel to London and effectively operate as spies. As they are drawn more deeply and painfully into the conflict, both discover the perils of neutrality—in both love and war."
Steeped in colorful history, The Matchmaker of Kenmare is a stirring story of friendship and sacrifice. New York Times bestselling author Frank Delaney has written a lush and surprising novel, rich as myth, tense as a thriller, and like all grand tales—harrowing, sometimes hilarious, and heartbreaking."
Ben McCarthy is the narrator in the book, recounting to his two children how he looks back on his friendship with Miss Begley, the matchmaker of Kenmare. He begs their forgiveness for his habit of digression. And digress he does! Sometimes to the point of exasperation but when he reminisces about their dangerous adventures during the war, I was enthralled.
From a historical point of view, the issue of Ireland's neutrality was interesting. Ben and Kate discuss their own feelings of neutrality towards each other and the war itself. Ben said it best when he admitted to himself:
" How tired I am from this swinging, this side-to-side movement of my allegiances; on this side for a time, then on that side; supporters of "our" armies because I met "their" soldiers, and "their" ordinary countryside people. Neutrality, or is it indecision, and worse, cowardice? I'm tired of it."
These thoughts made me wonder how I would feel about neutrality during wartime. Is it possible from a personal point of view?
I really wanted to like this one so much and had high hopes of being enmeshed with the characters and not wanting to put the book down.With a WII timeframe, a setting in Ireland, a love story and a matchmaker, this story had the potential to be a stellar 5 star read.
Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed in how slowly the book started. The narrative felt choppy and did not flow smoothly for me until almost page 100. This is when the book started to get interesting although some of the scenarios where Kate and Ben roam around France and Germany looking for Charles Miller had me questioning the plausibility of these actions.
On the positive side, the author does give the reader a real sense of place; I felt as if I were in Ireland listening to some of the matchmaker's discussions in her windswept cottage by the sea. By the end of the book, the reader definitely knew the characters well, their thoughts, feelings, flaws and all.
Taking all into account this was a hard book for me to rate as I really liked parts of it and other parts had me bored and guilty of skimming through Ben's journal entries. This is just my feeling for the book - you need to make up your own mind and may love it! For me it was a 3* read at best.
Frank Delaney is also the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, including Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, (prequel to The Matchmaker of Kenmare). Mr. Delaney can be found at his blog or at his Facebook page.
Disclosure: A review copy of the book was provided by Random House in exchange for my honest opinion.