2008. 173. The Ginger Man

“Today a rare sun of spring . And horse carts clanging to the quays down Tara Street and the shoeless white faced kids screaming.”

The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy

Another Modern Library Top 100 novel (number 99, in fact), and another book that, to me, is more interesting as literary history than as a work of fiction.  The book is like a combination of Ulysses, Lucky Jim and Sabbath’s Theater - part stream of consciousness, part Angry Young Man and part pornography.  This is one of those books that I suspect got people all het up when it first came out, and was censored and all that jazz - and as a lover of literature you want to stand on the side opposite censorship.   But now that we don’t censor books just because they are about sex, let me say that this is a book about a thoroughly unpleasant character, and one who the author thinks is a hell of a lot more cute and appealing than I do.  It very much reminds me of Sabbath’s Theater in that way*, and it makes me think that my generation has a very different attitude towards sex than the wild young men of the forties and fifties did.  Of course, it could be my gender, as well.  These kinds of books hate women - or at a minimum, do not see them as anything but sex objects, so it is hard for me to see the appeal.

Anyway, the plot is about an American, living in Ireland studying law on the G.I. Bill after the war.  He and all of his friends are drunk, poor and wild, and he is the worst of all.  He is all id - he drives away his wife and child, he destroys the places he lives (every passage about him stealing furnishings from the apartments he lets and pawning them made me ill), and he sleeps with anyone he can.  He basically is someone out to destroy his life - and I appreciate the novel as an absolutely faithful portrait of this kind of person. I just think that the author thought the book was a comedy and I think, if it works at all, it works as a tragedy.  I didn’t think the main character was some sort of liberated hero, but that he was probably mentally ill, and certainly unpleasant to know.  

However, there is no question that Donleavy can write - his writing - even his lyricism, which I don’t always have much patience for - was enough to carry me through the sordid plots, and it made an unpleasant character worth reading about, such that even if I didn’t find it as riotous as it was intended, I appreciated how the author made this character - and that time period in Dublin come alive.  I wouldn’t mind reading something else by Donleavy - something that relies less on shock - I think I might find it a much more interesting story...


*I will say that I didn’t loathe this book like I loathed Sabbath’s Theater. The difference was in the time period - a book with retrograde attitudes written in the fifties is less repulsive to me than one written in the early 1990’s.  Also, the writing carries you a lot further than the Roth - it is so expressive that even sordidity seems beautiful.


Date/Place Completed:  12/3/08; D.C.

Categories: Fiction, Library Book, Modern Library Top 100, Book Resolution

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017