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The Ginger Man (1955)

by J.P. Donleavy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,598257,729 (3.49)73
First published in Paris in 1955 and originally banned in America, J. P. Donleavy's first novel is now recognized the world over as a masterpiece and a modern classic of the highest order. Set in Ireland just after World War II, The Ginger Man is J. P. Donleavy's wildly funny, picaresque classic novel of the misadventures of Sebastian Dangerfield, a young American ne'er-do-well studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Dangerfield's appetite for women, liquor, and general roguishness is insatiable--and he satisfies it with endless charm. "Lusty, violent, wildly funny ... The Ginger Man is the picaresque novel to stop them all."--Dorothy Parker, Esquire… (more)

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» See also 73 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
There are a lot of quotes packed in this tome. And there are a lot of failures, but not in the writing.

During the first 20% of this book, I thought the rest of it would be pretty Hunter S. Thompson-straightforwardish, a bit of "oh, this must have influenced 'Withnail % I'", but no. I'm glad to have been wrong.

It's abuse. It's horror. The mundane existence of alcoholics (which is not mundane in the least to a non-alcoholic) embedded in thoughts spun as they're spoken, which is very comparable with an old comic-book without sound effects strewn throughout the pages. With all of the onomatopoetry lost, the reader gains much.

It all flows as stream-of-consciousness, even though it's evident and plain. An adulterer. A man of ill repute, yet of psychopathic tendencies. Some effective short sentences, e.g.

O'Keefe filling a bowl with bread crumbs. Night outside and the boom of the sea. Angelus bells. Pause that refreshes.

Then there are the near-Shakespeareian dialogue:

On this June morning, Dangerfield came in the front gate of Trinity and went up the dusty rickety stairs of No. 3 where he stood by the dripping rust-stained sink and banged on O'Keefe's door. A minute passed and then the sound of padding feet and latches being undone and the appearance of a bearded, dreary face and one empty eye. "It's you." The door was swung open and O'Keefe plodded back to his bedroom. A smell of stale sperm and rancid butter. Mouldering on the table, a loaf of bread, a corner bitten from it with marks of teeth. The fireplace filled with newspapers, old socks, spittle stains and products of self pollution. "Christ, Kenneth, don't you think you ought to have this place cleaned up?" "What for? Does it make you sick? Vomit in the fireplace."

...and a simplified notion of why some of them drink:

But Jesus, when you don't have any money, the problem is food. When you have money, it's sex. When you have both it's health, you worry about getting rupture or something. If everything is simply jake then you're frightened of death. And look at these faces, all stuck with the first problem and will be for the rest of their days."

Still, this is much more than clever one-liners. It's repetitiveness, and what seems not to be repetitive to people who aren't in this disposition, or who have become too old to remember what it was like.

Highly recommendable not due to Donleavy's style or the quotes, but as a whole. As the revolutions heighten, the end of the book is welcome and grand. Which the book is, entirely. ( )
  pivic | Mar 20, 2020 |
An irresponsible overseas student in early 1950s Dublin and London does no work, drinks and fights his way through his student grant, mistreats his wife, child, and several girlfriends, and robs or cheats various landlords and shopkeepers. But wait a moment - he's not just being gratuitously offensive, he's rebelling against the hypocritical conformity of the society of the times. So that's all right, then, we're allowed to indulge him...

Obviously, we should have read this back in 1955, when it was a censorship-beating under-the-counter publication brought back illegally from Paris, and when Dangerfield's oafish behaviour might still have struck us as gloriously liberating. We might have recognised the book as an important link between the American modernism of the Henry Miller era and the up-and-coming young British writers of the Osborne/Amis/Sillitoe generation, and celebrated the unstoppable energy of its narrative and the irrepressible effrontery of the dialogue. Reading it more than sixty years later, the main feeling is regret for the sheer wastefulness of it: all that justifiable resentment against post-war bourgeois society getting pointlessly burnt off in macho bouts of drinking, fucking and fighting. To no purpose at all, as far as we can see... ( )
2 vote thorold | Aug 12, 2019 |

I bought this after Donleavy died, as I'm always interested in books set in Dublin from the external perspective. The time is roughly 1948, the place more or less Trinity College and the Dublin of student accommodation; Sebastian Dangerfield, Donleavy's protagonist, runs between women and beds, drinking ruinously, stealing to survive as he has already spent his inheritance. He's a thoroughly unpleasant character and I didn't much enjoy reading about him. I appreciated the literary salutes to other writers, particularly Joyce of course, but after a while they got rather laboured and the humour of the book is painful and dated. Not really recommended. ( )
  nwhyte | Jul 14, 2019 |
Ugh. It's complicated. I try to review the thing here: https://wp.me/p4LPys-m2 ( )
  KatrinkaV | Feb 17, 2019 |
I love reading The Ginger Man, a most inappropriate book... with an irresistible pícaro for a protagonist: terrible, wonderful and mad. JP Donleavy sweeps the reader up in a whirlwind of scenes of a magnificently self-centered character who only tends to his own needs and desires, often while abusing everyone and everything around him. Astonishingly, I can't stop reading about his drunken, abusive exploits in a blur of Joycean images in Dublin.

I notice many readers reject Donleavy's novel because they find the main character repulsive - but he is MEANT to be repulsive, at the same time he is attractive. We, like the women around Dangerfield, are seduced by his madness and cannot wait to see what happens next.

The lack of a direct narrative is signaled by enjambed narration (usually different 3rd person narrators) - which most often happens when the narrator shifts in the same line, leaving the reader disoriented. James Joyce and Toni Morrison (Beloved) both use this trick at times, which makes it tough going for the average reader who may simply give up in disgust and confusion. For the brave and patient, however, the writer rewards us with a montage of images and actions without concern for a physical nor a moral compass. It is simply as freeform as jazz, abstract painting and rollicking first love. If a reader wants a direct, linear plot, try Hemingway. If you are up for a challenge, I recommend this book or Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch to keep your wits whetted. ( )
  Peter.Kalnin | Mar 31, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Donleavy, J.P.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lehmann, L.Th.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Today a rare sun of spring.
Today a rare sun of spring.
On Dublin: "a great gray trap"
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