Book #99-The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy

While reading The Ginger Man, I could not help but realize that Donleavy’s stye was reminiscent of James Joyce, however, this book was Joyce on Lithium.  In other words, this was readable stream of consciousness, not pages of words without order or punctuation, ala Joyce.  This is the quintessential picaresque novel.

An American studying law in 1948 at Trinity College in Dublin seems to lack focus, finances and fortitude.  Living with his English wife and infant daughter, he somehow fails to find time for work or studies, but has no trouble finding his way to the nearest public house.

The capricious Sebastian Dangerfield narrates the tale and shares his thoughts in a forthright manner.  Never one to ponder how his actions may affect others, he carries on without remorse or distress.  His lasciviousness guides him along with a motley and like minded crew of reprobates.  I still don’t understand why so many women were attracted to an unemployed, married libertine.  I wanted to hate this character, but some part of his humanity prevented me from doing so.

Sebastian’s sidekick, Kenneth O’Keefe, tires of the wanton life and heads for a teaching stint in Paris in hopes of matching the sexual escapades of his pal.  He sees his friend for what he is and lends him money upon his departure, hoping to be repaid, but knowing he’ll never see the money again.  He sends sexually explicit correspondence back to his Dublin pal and bemoans his failures at seducing women so has now resorted to sexcapades with his male students and shares those experiences in sordid detail.  This is the annoying guy everyone feels sorry for, but tries to avoid whenever possible.

Sebastian meets his sexual match in Mary, a young laundress who agrees to move with him to London.  She exposes an insatiable sexual appetite and quickly becomes bored with Sebastian.  With ambition as her guide, she eventually abandons her man and attempts to make her own way.  Kudos to the only woman of Sebastian’s with enough sense to dump such a loser.

I’d certainly ask Mr. Donleavy to meet in a pub where we’d chat over ales.  Perhaps he’d share his experiences in the Navy during WWII.  Of course, I’d ask if he’s still in talks with Depp over the movie version and applaud that casting decision.

My rating for The Ginger Man is an 8 out of 10.

To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

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Next up, Book Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons…


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