I remember once reading a blurb for J.P. Donleavy’s 1955 novel The Ginger Man—the author’s first—that commended it by saying this was the book that your boozy sister would love.
This made me wonder if your abstemious sister would also dig it. That novel told the tale of Sebastian Dangerfield, a rakehell of an American ex-pat up to various forms of lascivious and licentious gamboling in Dublin, which made a certain amount of congruous autobiographical sense. Donleavy was born in Brooklyn and went to school at Trinity College. The novel, which will split your nerves and tendons from where they are supposed to be fastened, is hilarious. And, like any good comic novel, it’s also deeply sobering. Guts of life and all that jazz.
Donleavy gets lumped in strange categories. He doesn’t get comfortably lumped in with the Irish stalwarts like Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, and attempts to place him with the Kitchen Sink realists of the late ’50s and early ’60s always feels forced. There are not a lot of picaresque realists, but there aren’t a lot of better novels for St. Patrick’s Day than Donleavy’s 1973 effort, A Fairy Tale of New York. It is the book of his that is better than The Ginger Man, a shillelagh to the head that both gives your soul a buzz worthy of a holiday of day drinking, and knocks it sober in fierce epiphany the next morning.
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