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A Fairy Tale of New York

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  898 ratings  ·  47 reviews
A Fairy Tale of New York is a funny, lusty, and sad novel of comic genius. Returning from study abroad, Cornelius Christian enters customs with his luggage and his dead wife. His first encounter in New York is with a funeral director, with whom he reluctantly takes employment to pay for the burial expenses. In the course of his duties he meets the beautiful Fanny Sourpuss ...more
Paperback, 348 pages
Published January 18th 1994 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published September 1973)
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David Louis O'Dell The style drove me nuts in the beginning. Then it grew on me. I've found myself often thinking of it in the 10 years since I read this. Heck, I might…moreThe style drove me nuts in the beginning. Then it grew on me. I've found myself often thinking of it in the 10 years since I read this. Heck, I might even read it again . . .it is very unique! I'm not speaking about the question marks . . . I'm speaking of the way sentences are put together in general . . . it is very very unique. IMHO. dlo(less)

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3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  898 ratings  ·  47 reviews

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Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: irish, new-york-city
Ambition Fulfilled

Donleavy writes like a literate magpie. Twitchy. Snapshot-flicks of the head. Short calls of alarm and surprise. Just hard shapes, no colour. Startled by sudden movement. Alert to sounds. Fragments of instinct and memory. Picking up shiny bits. Never still.

Until, that is, he cuts into his Noo Yawk dialogue. Then it’s comedy with a noir edge that catches the character of the place - its suspicious immigrants, its world weary cops, its sarcastic taxi drivers, its canny street pe
Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know no other writher who can be as telegraphically poetic as J.P. Donleavy and as laconically vivid.
A Fairy Tale of New York is the tale of mourning and it is the tale of love.
The deceased’s arm hanging out over the side of the casket. Fingers dipping into the tips of the lilies of the valley. Fuming up their fragrance when all we need is smelling salts.

It is the book of the dead.
Show honesty in the squeeze of your handshake. Grow tall strong and bronze like the buildings. Tear them down befo
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
J.P. Donleavy is one of my top five favorite authors of all time. And for me, this is my favorite of his novels.

The lead character is a floundering, directionless scoundrel but he's also a lost person who side stepped into a maze after immigrating to New York City. There's an honesty to this book, there's an honesty to how one can be so alone and yet surrounded by millions of people in NYC.

This particular quote sums up exactly why this book struck home to me so hard, as I read this shortly after
Jul 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Cornelius Christian, the protagonist in this novel, is young, handsome, widowed, highly sexed, amoral and erratic. I couldn’t get a fix on this guy and concluded in the end that I didn’t like him very much. Narrated in combination first and third person prose, with lengthy monologues and bizarre dialogue, this is a satire on the shallowness of life in America. It is also a difficult read due to its style.

Cornelius arrives back home to New York after a sojourn in Ireland. His wife who is accompan
Nov 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
Been thinking of a way of describing this book and I've come up with:

Henry Miller with a sense of humour!

Just like Miller he has created a cast of horrible characters, violence, foul language and gratuitous sex, combining to make a great read.

Donleavy uses short. Punchy sentences. To make this story move along very fastly. Christian is a brilliant character, at first I thought he was gonna be a bit soft but turns out he was wonderfully destructive, his politeness was hilarious at times creating
Aug 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Holly, whom you probably don't know, once felt strongly that every Jansenist, Jesuit, dentist, or destitute should at some point and time ask herself following:

What will be found at the crossroads of idealism and benevolence? Will it be The Puritans of the Long Parliament or The Piano Man of Long Island?

Mind, Holly's friend Fire, expressly named after the famous element, then paraphrased her initial question; verbally offering it to the group. As such:

Is it obvious that man's ethical responsi
Sara Hernández
Dec 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a novel for your everyday bus trip or a coffee read, it's not very stunning, but it is funny and about a guy living weir experiences and it gets very real.
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the sixth novel of Donleavy's I've read, in order of composition. His prose style--the sentence fragments, irregular spellings, gorgeous imagery, shifts from third to first person, poetic chapter endings, the main characters with alliterative names--was firmly in place from the beginning, and somewhere between A Singular Man and The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, all of the author's thematic concerns and motifs were nailed down as well. These include:

- a deep desire for wealth and le
Jun 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
This book’s about American guy who moves back to America from Ireland and scams his way through life with his good looks, Irish accent, and charm. He is completely unsympathetic and I couldn’t even love to hate him. It was interesting that he lived in Greenlawn, a section of New York that judging from the descriptions was based on Woodlawn, which was where I was living at the time. But it didn’t justify the obnoxiousness of the narrator.
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
Picked this up because it evoked the New York City of my childhood. But it’s mostly stream of consciousness—don’t care for my own, less some fictional character’s monkey mind.

Sordid People I’d rather not know. Unhappy protagonist. Meh.

A few funny scenes—especially the courtroom scene.

But really, sorry I bothered. Not my cuppa.
Apr 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
abandoned after 90 pages.
I was not thrilled by the plot, and I don't like the style of writing
Jan 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I could really see myself in the main character of this book. In not in action, that at least it spirit.
Andrew Church
Oct 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Probably my favorite J.P. Donleavy book. It, like most of his books, is very sentimental but his main characters all feel like they could be friends of mine.
A Fairy Tale of New York by J.P. Donleavy
Seven out of 10

J.P. Donleavy is the author of two of the most appreciated books – one of them, The Ginger Man (reviewed at, is included on The Modern Library List of Best 100 Books of the last century.

The other is A Fairy Tale of New York and this one figures among The Guardian 1,000 Novels Everyone Must Read, in the section for best comedy books, although the humor may be missed or not cherished by everyone.
Oct 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Este libro es la historia de un tipo que llega sin un mango y con la esposa muerta a NY. Como sobrevive en NY, como hay gente que lo quiere ayudar siempre y a él le importa un carajo todo porque esta demente. El libro te dice que si tenes buen porte, buena presencia y buen léxico el mundo se abre a tus pies a pesar de ser un patán. Es un libro demente. Es un libro sin demasiado hilo. Difícil de explicar. Va de primera persona a tercera persona constantemente. Pero es un libro entretenido, muy bi ...more
Dec 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those interested in strong character/protagonist development
Recommended to Kirstie by: Rory
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is my second time reading this book, the first being in my late 20s. At this point in my life, it is less entertaining and more crass. I do feel more empathy for Christian, a very lonely man, an orphan with a sad childhood who clearly has brought a lot of this sadness with him through life. The book begins with death, the death of his wife. He returns to the place of his lonely childhood, NYC. He enters the funeral business and surrounds himself with more death. He tries to escape lonelines ...more
Doug Haynes
Feb 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Not, in my opinion the best ever written by Donleavy but even his second string is a masterpiece by most standards.

Once again we follow an emotionally stunted drunk, delusional and philandering cad on his rough and tumble journey through polite, and some cases not so polite, society in search of a little bit of peace and dignity accompanied by just a slight nip of the drink and maybe a little bit of satisfaction for ones frontal tail.

The cast of characters is amazing, the protagonist is both dep
Frank Cole
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding work. My personal favorite of Donleavys novels. From the moment the protagonist unloads his poor dead wife from the ship, things begin to go south for this mislead young man as he makes his way through New York in this hilarious dark comedy of a novel. Nearly every page is full of quotable lines and memorable characters, from an eastern-european boardinghouse manager who keeps an iron bar between her huge breasts for dealing with unruly tenants to his extensive string of hungry femal ...more
Gila Gila
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
I'm never quite sure how many US readers are still reading Donleavy, and always hoping it's more than I suspect. The funniest bits of this one take place while Our Newly Widowed Hero (and usual Donleavy lovable bastard) is working, or drinking, or getting nailed at a funeral parlour. But as with all JP's novels, the ultimate effect of the novel is heartbreak, a quiet and all encompassing loneliness.

That said. After reading him I find it difficult not to. Purloin his style. Because.
Jul 11, 2016 marked it as to-read
* 1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list

Selected by the Guardian's Review team and a panel of expert judges, this list includes only novels – no memoirs, no short stories, no long poems – from any decade and in any language. Originally published in thematic supplements – love, crime, comedy, family and self, state of the nation, science fiction and fantasy, war and travel – they appear here for the first time in a single list.
Donna Brown
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was ok

Having read almost everything Donleavy wrote in my younger years, I am very disappointed in this book. Basically, there is no plot. Cornelius Christian drifts from situation to situation for no reason. Some of these situations are very funny but disjointed. Also the stream of consciousness writing just seems out of control. I've only got a few pages left but not sure I'll even finish it. Sad for someone whose favorite book while a 20-something was The Ginger Man.
Terry Clague
Sep 23, 2009 rated it liked it
"You know, there must be happiness somewhere, when a lawyer dies."

"Some people will accept nothing but a lie when you're struggling to tell the gospel truth."

An enjoyable novel. Not as funny as I'd been led to believe but certainly laughed out loud during the courtroom scene. I'm looking forward to listening to the song of the same name at the start of the Christmas season on November 6th.
Andrew Gulakov
Jan 09, 2014 rated it liked it
This is funny and ruffian tale about unfortunate reaching of the american dream, but it's cute because of its controversial hero. He is a stranger among the familiars and familiar among the strangers ))
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I may have to give up on Mr Donleavy. Nice bits here and there, sharp for a while then drags for a while, I cared about the protagonist less and less as the book rolled along, the raunch felt like raunch for its own sake instead of being an integral component. Sorry.
Lubov Yakovleva
Aug 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Мир, как он есть?
А что это?

Безнадёжность, усталость, мрачность, красота абсурда.

Мир прогнил?
Не знаю.

Лучший способ выжить и сохранить себя - работать в погребальном бюро.

Давно читала, смутно помню.
Но опыт чтения этой книги был важен.
Greg Akins
May 03, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a really interestly written book. JP uses a mix of conventional prose and un filtered stream of conciousness writing .. It get's difficult to read at times, but it yields some interesting views into the nature of his characters
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
I liked this book much more than The Ginger Man. It was more lighthearted, and also funny! As someone who lives in Manhattan, it was fun reading about the city. There are similarities in society as well as landmarks that existed then, and now.
May 20, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was much too young for this book when I read it. It wasn't so much that the sex stuff was embarrassing, but the book requires a basic sophistication that I didn't have. Need to re-visit this one someday.
Cinematic Frankenstein
I adore the books about death and different awful things. In spite of it, this book, where there are a lot of stuff about funeral service and strange minds, i don't like it at all. There is no atmosphere of my favourite city.
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James Patrick Donleavy was an Irish American author, born to Irish immigrants. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II after which he moved to Ireland. In 1946 he began studies at Trinity College, Dublin, but left before taking a degree. He was first published in the Dublin literary periodical, Envoy.

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“You know, there must be happiness somewhere, when a lawyer dies.” 7 likes
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