The Matchmaker of Kenmare (A Novel of Ireland, #2)

By Frank Delaney

900 ratings - 3.53* vote

“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 “And there’s a legend—she had only vague details—that all couples who are meant to marry are connected

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Book details

Hardcover, 397 pages
February 8th 2011 by Random House

(first published January 1st 2011)

ISBN
1400067847 (ISBN13: 9781400067848)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Sandra Olshaski

The Matchmaker of Kenmare Frank Delaney (Rated:C)
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6784-8
Random House
Published 2011
Hardcover, 416 pages

Reviewed by Sandra

When I finished reading Delaney’s previous novel Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show I remember hoping for a sequel. Well, here it is in all its glory!

The novel takes place in Ireland and Europe during World War II. The story appears to be Ben Murphy’s relentless search for his wife and child (?) who disappeared under mysterious circumstances over a decade earlier. But that’s only part of the intrigue. Ben, the narrator is also writing a memoir of his life with Kate Begley – the matchmaker of Kenmare – a woman who successfully arranges marriages. Both Ben and Kate are in the 20’s. It is plain that Ben is attracted to her, though still pining for his wife, Venetia. Kate, however, falls in love with and marries an American soldier, who is a covert agent. Even after Kate’s marriage, Ben refers to her as “Miss Begley.” When Kate’s husband goes missing somewhere in Europe, Kate and Ben set off into France to find him and stumble into the war zone. Or, as Ben put it “we walked right into the Second World War.” Disastrous news awaits them they learn that Charles Miller, Kate’s husband, is missing in action, presumed dead. Kate absolutely refuses to believe that and drags Ben into the war zone again. Ben describes it as “that last, awful foray, during which all my views about life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and every other damn thing in the world were scuttled.” At one point they find themselves behind enemy lines fearing for their lives. Eventually they make it back home to Ireland and go their separate ways.

Ben finds his wife, but…….
Kate’s husband comes back into her life, but…..

This is a quirky novel peopled by unusual characters and circumstances. For example, when Ben first meets Kate she is on her hands and knees drawing a chalk line around the outside doormat. The reason is “this is to keep out the ants. Ants hate chalk. It makes them vomit.” At another point Ben describes Kate as “she speaks 3-1/2 languages.” Kate can find missing people by dangling a threaded needle over a map. Then there is the part about the man searching for a new set of teeth – new to him, that is. He does meet a shopkeeper who can provide those teeth and who “will hire them out to you for six months.”

Delaney uses delightful tidbits to keep the reader enthralled. For instance, Ben relates “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.”

The book is full of wonderful descriptions. For example, “a low sea-mist had draped the coast in a long gray stole.” Or what about “his face reminded me of brown wrapping paper that had been scrunched up into a ball and then smoothed out.”

The book is about love, espionage, matchmaking, history, mystery, renewal of hope, Ireland’s place in the war, and the meaning of true friendship. I believe Frank Delaney has another winner!

Kathryn

I won this book through First Reads! I can' wait to get it and to read it. I will post my review as soon as I can!

Tiffany

I'm sticking with a solid 3 1/2 stars on this one. I wanted to give it 4 stars, but the beginning drove me crazy with all of the foreshadowing and foretelling. I understand that the narrator was telling the story as a memoir, but it took a while to understand who he was telling his story to, and to weave together all of the fragments later on. I understood the reason behind it, but I felt it was a bit too much. Overall, the story was very engaging and interesting. I hadn't known that Ireland was neutral during WW2. I had mixed feelings about how the story was resolved...but I won't give it away to future readers. I enjoy this author, his characters, and writing style.
P.S. My edition was an "Advance Uncorrected Proof" sent to me through Goodreads...how awesome is that?! I did find some errors (couldn't stop the "closet" editor in me), in case anyone cares: a line on pg. 187 needs a question mark; a line on pg. 247 needs a "to" inserted; a line on pg. 345 needs a question mark; and a comma is needed on pg. 367.

Michaela Moye

I learned some things about myself as I read this book.

Chris

I didn't fall in love with this as much as I did with the book Ireland by the same author but it was still a good read and I enjoyed it.

Delaney's main skill is that he is exceptional at crafting a genuine Irish environment that it is so easy to get sucked into. And to further attest to this skill, he can do it in seemingly any time period. This specific book takes place in the first half of the 20th century, mostly in the World War II era. Ben comes off as a reliable narrator so it is easy to take his word for the events occurring. Also, probably because I am an oral historian myself, I loved how his story was structured with the different journal entries from both Ben and Kate. The competing viewpoints seemed to make it more credible.

I found the character of Ben very likable. I empathized with his heartbreak and was rooting for him to find his long lost wife. I also understood his less noble emotions and forgave him for them due to the immense amount of stress he was under. I was more conflicted about his actions following Kate around all over Europe. He wasn't especially supportive of her actions but followed her along out of what seemed like a misguided sense of loyalty.

However, I have very different mixed emotions towards Kate. Initially, she comes off as a very sly, independent woman skillful at her craft. But she later loses some of her credibility and comes of as manipulative and willing to do almost anything to get what she wants. It's almost cruel how she toys with Ben's emotions and in the end, does very little herself to actually help him find Venetia. She discounts his objections to her spying schemes and puts his life in frequent danger seemingly without a second thought. Also, her obsession with American Captain Miller is unhealthy at the least but more like stalkerish and disturbing. Her initial mission to find a German former client is brave and somewhat honorable but the underhanded way she uses that to blackmail Capt. Miller into marriage is nothing less than shameful. The manipulative way she forces him into leaving his girl at home behind is also abominable and it would seem to be contradictory to the ethics of her profession. She makes the less than perfect men that she matches agree to behave honestly and honorable toward their matches yet she seems to make exceptions to these expectations when she is the one involved.

On top of her initial inappropriate behavior towards Captain Miller and blackmailing him into marriage, she acts as if she is even more exceptional when she finds herself in the common position of being a military wife awaiting her husband's return. She cannot just stay at home and await word like the thousands of other women in her position. No, instead she has to exploit whatever other connections she has in order to perform another completely unnecessary covert mission to track down Miller. As if that weren't bad enough, she drags Ben along on this idiotic mission despite his frequent protests encouraging her to pursue an alternate course of action. In the end, both are lucky to escape with their lives, Kate would not have at all if not for Ben's actions, and the whole ordeal is fruitless as they return with hardly any more information on Captain Miller than when they left. So after she barely returns home with her life, she remains home and carries on her business until she receives word, right? Of course not.

She moves to New York City, dragging poor Ben along with her, to pine away after her long lost love and harass the soldiers disembarking from every single ship that makes it in to the harbor. When forcing Ben to endure this idiocy is not enough, she purchases a small menagerie of animals and ships them cross country to promote her matchmaking business relocating to Kansas. Cause that makes a load of sense... How exactly does a giraffe have anything to do with dating, love or marriage? When it seems like she might just accept that Captain Miller is not returning, she ropes Ben into a coerced engagement. Kate has become adept at taking advantage of Ben's honorable nature anytime she feels like it.

In the end, it is tragic but somewhat satisfying when she gets her just desserts in the form of her husband's return. Thankfully, this gives Ben an out from what surely would have been a doomed marriage. Captain Miller does return but he is only a shell of the man he once was. His transformation is a moving testimony of the wartime effects of shell shock. While his fate is regrettable, it does make me smile to think of how all Kate's meddling and manipulation turn out for her. After all her pulling strings to find a handsome American to provide for her, she instead must be caretaker for an invalid and limit her once expansive practice to a small town in Kansas, so far away from the home she loves.

The ongoing theme of this book is also very well done. The idea of neutrality has several different nuances and interpretations. The most obvious interpretation of neutrality in this book is Ireland's position during the war. Even though the political administration of the country tries to remain neutral, it can't really enforce the same requirements upon its citizens. Thus you have many Irish enlisting in the British military and blatant disregard for neutrality by some such as Kate and Ben. So then the question becomes 'is Ireland truly neutral'?

The second interpretation of this neutrality theme is the question if a man and a woman can be strictly friends. Personally, my inclination is to say yes. I have many male friends with whom I have a platonic relationship. As a matter of fact, I have more male friends than female. However, in this book, it doesn't seem that simple. It seems like Ben is perfectly capable of that kind of friendship but Kate is not due to her dubious nature. Perhaps if she was more honorable and less manipulative, it would be possible, but as far as the main friendship in this story, Kate is too guilty of betrayal to maintain an equal friendship.

In this book, Delaney's masterful storytelling emerges and proves itself once again but the story is not as pleasant as some if his others. Indeed, a good story need not always be pleasant and it is a mark of skill to create a character one hates just as much as it is to create a lovable one. But however wonderfully crafted a story, this one didn't have the same appeal to me as his others and I lost some of the previous magic in this realistic tale. Ireland captured the magic and lore of its homeland while this narrative was about a much darker era of its history.

Marie Burton

This is another one of those books that I just could not refuse after reading that synopsis. I forgive the editors for creating such a long synopsis, because there is so much going on behind the scenes that calling this a World War II love story would be completely remiss. The book is a sort of anomaly for me: vague, opaque, labyrinthine.. yet still hypnotic, engrossing, suspenseful. There is love, romance, whimsy, tragedy, loss, and everything in between. Upon opening the book you are setting one foot into the riddle of an unknown story, not knowing which way you are supposed to go, as each piece of the puzzle is slowly lifted and you become more and more interested in the events of Miss Kate Begley and Ben MacCarthy. And the prominent side note throughout: is Ben falling in love with Kate? Too bad for him if he is, because Kate is in love with the dashing USA Military Hero Prototype Charles Miller.

Kate is the Matchmaker (happily setting Irish folks up for marriage), and Ben is the returning main character from author Frank Delaney's previous work, Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show (Feb. 2010). Although I had not read any of the author's previous works, I had no problems enjoying this on its own, though questions posed with the previous book become answered with this new book. Frank Delaney has an impressive voice that he imbibes with Ben the narrator, who was an intriguing and likeable character on his own and a perfect narrator. We get to observe Ben's reactions to the people he meets in Ireland, London and France as he follows along on a somewhat insane chase after Kate's ex-neighbor who could be a German spy. Then the next adventure comes along, and another.. as he is inextricably tied to Kate Begley in soul mate fashion.

The feel of certain countries during the war was also a major part, standing in as a character on its own was the War and how Ireland was trying very hard to be neutral. The prose the author uses is one of those that embodies the term lyrical, and I am not using it loosely here. I was very impressed with the writing style, where in reality not a lot was happening, yet the words were giving it just enough meaning to make me guessing and wanting more. The suspense and mystery behind the entire quest, with it being during the war, gave it enough of a tense sort of danger lurking beneath each character as we slowly learned bit by bit who was really who.

The major impression of the story was the way it was narrated, as Ben was telling a memoir of sorts for his children. He recounts snippets from his writings during the time the story was taking place, and once he recited the piece he offers a bit of foreshadowing and more of a clue of what is going on, as we never really know exactly what it is that is the proverbial bomb that Ben keeps alluding to throughout his adventures with Kate, the matchmaker of Kenmare. Kate is a complex character, but someone you know you would love the moment you sat down with her. The phrases and beliefs she displays make her seem intelligent, perfect, yet her heart is hidden somewhere beneath her own demons.

The plot is not a fast moving one, as the author is establishing more of a relationship between the reader and the characters, so it was a little tough in the very beginning to get my head into the intricacies of the story. Once the events started picking up and I was able to get invested with the characters and setting, I was eager to move the pages to see where The Matchmaker of Kenmare would take me. Recommended for those in the mood for an engaging mystery involving Ireland, polished with historical insight regarding World War II. I am off to discover Frank Delaney's backlist which focuses on an Ireland that he describes with an infectious glittering adoration. He has a gift with words that I am eager to be entertained with.

Jim

This is a book that touches me closely because of the kinship I feel with its hero and narrator, Ben McCarthy. In The Matchmaker of Kenmare, Ben falls under the sway of Kate Begley, a matchmaker and daughter of a matchmaker. She completely enchants him and takes over his life as easily as if he were a pair of gloves she puts on. Ben starts out with a deep vulnerability: His wife, the former Venetia Kelly, has disappeared; and there are no clues as to whether she is among the quick or the dead. The Matchmaker of Kenmare is a sequel to Frank Delaney's earlier Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, but not having read the earlier book, I do not feel as if I had missed out on any vital information. Matchmaker can effectively stand alone.

Just as Ben seems about to change his inner sorrow from the loss of Venetia to the vital and lovely Kate Begley, Kate falls in love with and marries a tall American soldier in Special Ops who is about to join the "Big Show" in France, Belgium and Germany during the last two years of World War II.

Ben is a wandering folklore expert, who travels around Ireland looking for stories and carefully noting them down. His favorite book is Helen Waddell's The Wandering Scholars (1927), a book about the lyric poets of the Middle Ages. (This book also sits on my shelf.) Much of this goes underground as Kate hijacks Ben and -- not once, but three times -- hauls him into the middle of the European Theater of Operations as she looks for her husband Charles Miller even as the horrors unfold in front of her face.

I don't want to give away the ending, but I do want to remind you of the lyrics of a Country & Western song that contains the line, "Thank God for unanswered prayers." You see, in a way, Ben gets his girl; and in a way, he doesn't. Life is sometimes like that: I was in love with a beautiful young pediatrician who led me by the nose for upwards of ten years before I leaped off the Merry-Go-Round without fatally injuring myself.

This is a surprisingly delicate novel exceedingly well plotted by its author, who has a way of foreshadowing future events just when you, the reader, think you know where you are. Not halfway through, you learn that Ben is telling this story to his child or children by Venetia. (Nope, still no spoilers here.)

I loved Ireland and think that The Matchmaker of Kenmare is every bit as good -- and for the same reason. Delaney knows not only how to work a story, but how to see the mythical dimensions that give it an aura of greatness. I think I will read more of his work, with great pleasure.

Rissi

What a masterful story-teller Frank Delaney is. This novel, set mostly in "neutral" Ireland during WWII, unfolds slowly, making me feel as if I were opening doors in a large, unfamiliar home. I know there is more to this tale than just the basic story-line. So I read it slowly and carefully, attempting a "close reading," to explore hidden shadow stories. I lingered and could almost smell the summer sea at Kenmare and suffer the snow and cold of war-torn Western Europe.

The Matchmaker of Kenmare, Kate Begley, is a strong heroine, who somehow never appears to us completely, leaving us to wonder just what her master plan is. She entices us, and Ben, the narrator, to follow her without knowing where she will lead him. Ben gives his view of her, her quirks and charms and fantasies. But are all her beliefs fantasies?And what, exactly, does Ben believe about his past?

Ben, "lonely and grieving," has his own mysteries, too. He struggles to know just who he is: collector of stories for the Irish Folklore Commission; married or widowed; soft-hearted gallant helping Miss Begley; or a ruthless wolf without a pack. The wolf images pop in and out of the story, and although they do presage some of Ben's actions, a he sees the wolf not in himself, but in some German officers.

Together Ben and Miss Begley, who has married the American soldier-spy she fell in love with, get drawn into the dark side of war and are enlisted as spies. Harrowing, hard-to-imagine, experiences in the middle of the war bind them together as they search for the Matchmaker's soldier husband.

As I read I sometimes laughed, I sometime held my breath, and I enjoyed every minute. Mr. Delaney's marvelous Ireland is terrific, The Matchmaker of Kenmare a great read, and I look forward to reading Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show.





Lyndsay

I'm a bit ambiguous on this book. I received it from a giveaway, and it was my first win, so I was rather excited. I found the book interesting enough to keep me picking it up and reading it, but not enough to stop me from putting it down and going to something else. It is a rather tragic story of two people, a man and a woman, whose lives intertwine during WWII. The historical aspect of it was very intriguing, and I liked hearing about those different aspects. That being said, I found the entire story a bit unbelievable. The adventures they experience in a war-torn Europe just seemed a bit far-fetched. The way the book is written, however, somehow keeps you reading and even in a way, keeps you believing. Despite the fact that you feel that Ben would not follow Miss Begley around like a puppy, you keep reading. There was only one part that just felt ridiculous to me, and that was the part with the giraffe. I won't go into detail; I just thought it was over the top. The entire book has a vague feel to it, as if you're being kept in the dark, like Ben. I believe this is the author's purpose, and I actually found that aspect of the book fitting to the story. Ultimately, this is a tragic tale of two people who use each other, yet both need each other. I'm not sure I enjoyed this book, but I was glad I had read it.

Rebecca H.

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. 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.

Read the rest of the review at Of Books and Bicycles

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