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The Ginger Man

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  9,762 ratings  ·  554 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 347 pages
Published March 1st 2001 by Grove Press (first published 1955)
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I'd seen The Ginger Man hanging around various bookshops for years but avoided a direct encounter until recently. That was probably a wise intuition as I'm quite certain that Sebastian Dangerfield, the ginger man of the title, would have driven my younger self to some extreme act such as burying the book in a deep hole after the first twenty pages. But if I had done that, I’d have thrown away a collection of curious artefacts. Donleavy's book is like the archeological site of literary Dublin and ...more
Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While reading Ginger Man I was literally mesmerised by its magically artistic language – it has never occurred to me that the words could be so kinematic.
She went down the steps. Paused, turned, smiled. Key. Green door. Few seconds. A light goes on. Shadow moves across the window. Hers. What sweet stuff, sweeter than all the roses. Come down God and settle in my heart on this triangular Friday.

And it was my first black humour trip to boot. And it was the book that made me fall in love with postm
Jul 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
I'd hazard a guess that this is one of Shane McGowan's favourite books. Personally, I found the wife-punching, baby-smothering, lying, stealing gobshite of the title utterly charmless. Reading the reviews, however, he's apparently a delightful comic rapscallion. Perhaps this sort of thing was daring and bawdy back in the uptight 1950s.

If, like me, Dangerfield's sozzled transatlantic blarney leaves you cold, you are left with the world's most unconvincing sex-machine (with the possible exception
Kevin Ansbro
The main protagonist, Sebastian Dangerfield, is a feckless, articulate, poetic drunkard who somehow has a roguish charm about him (though you wouldn't want to be saddled with the spiteful ne'er-do-well; he's best viewed from afar).
The Irish badinage is indecorously funny and the 'stream-of-consciousness' prose is masterly.

Those readers whose sensibilities are easily offended by make-believe misogyny in a fictional novel might want to give it a wide berth.
Lynne King
May 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, j-p-donleavy
Review – The Ginger Man – 28 May 2013

“When you get back Kenneth, I’ll walk naked wearing a green bowler to greet you at the boat. With a donkey cart flying green streamers and green shamrocks imported from Czechoslovakia and a band of girl pipers blowing like mad. Did you know that they imported the English sparrow into America to eat horseshit off the streets?”

Who else, but an Irish writer, and a zany one at that, could possibly have written that?

It’s interesting to know, however, that when “Th
"The lyrical quality of money is strange."
- J.P. Donleavy, The Ginger Man

description (

It is like J.P. Donleavy lifted Harold Skimpole out of Hard Times and made a whole whore of a novel of him as a young law student in Dublin. There are novels about drinking and there are novels about being shitfaced. This is a shitfaced novel. It ranks right up there with Lowry's Under the Volcano. Except insead of meszcal, there is plenty of stout and Irish whiskey. The prose is distilled three times: once with food, onc
Aug 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing

For all those 1 and 2 star reviewers on here who "hated" the book for its "misogyny" and the "unpleasantness" of Sebastian, I quote the following:

"He sat there elbows on his thighs hands hanging from his wrists.

Dreaming out this sunset. Tacked up on a cross and looking down. A cradle of passive, mystifying sorrow. Flooded in tears. Never be too wise to cry. Or not take these things. Take them. Keep them safely. Out of them comes love.

Miss Frost stepped from the door shyly. Her head a
Apr 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
I truly enjoyed this book -- and I'm a woman. I don't know why so many people seem to be so appalled by the protagonist Sebastian Dangerfield. Sure, I don't personally agree with many of Dangerfield's actions (his often offensive behavior seems to be the sole reason as to why some people slam The Ginger Man).

I don't read literature to find examples of characters who never commit a sin, however. I read selective fiction, for the most part, to be engaged in an entertaining tale. Donleavy more tha
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Before starting this novel, it would be helpful to review two definitions:
1. Satire: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

2. Picaresque: of or relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.

I started reading The Ginger Man without reviewing those principles and nearly quit in disgust. Eve
MJ Nicholls
Senryu Review:

Baddest rogue in Eire
screws landlords wenches and self
in this boozed-up romp
Ian "Marvin" Graye


"O scathful harm, condition of poverte!
With thirst, with cold, with hunger so confounded,
To asken helpe thee shameth in thin herte,
If thou non ask, so sore art thou ywounded
That veray nede unwrappeth al thy wound hid."

Down and Out in Paris and Dublin

Manning Clark talked about sex, religion and alcohol as the three great comforters. In “The Ginger Man”, JP Donleavy seems determined to prove that you can get by with at least two: sex and alcohol, if you add the occasional brawl, fist
David Lentz
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
JPD launched a storied literary career with a masterpiece in The Ginger Man. Sebastian, which means "venerable," is a man perpetually on the brink of utter madness brought largely upon himself. He is a Trinity College Dublin man whose condition is given to "staving off starvation" and whose only option when things always get worse is to "cheer-up or die." When you consider that JPD was first a painter, it's understandable that his writing style is pointillistic. The syntax like Dangerfield is no ...more
Mar 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
A truly dreadful book. I quit reading on page 29 of 347, and here’s why:

From the blurb from the back cover:

“…wildly funny, picaresque classic novel of the misdaventures of Sebastian Dangerfield, a young American ne’re-do-well….”

And this, from the fateful page 29:

“He drove his fist into Marion’s face [his wife]. She fell backward against the cupboard… In tattered underwear he stood at the nursery door. He kicked his foot through and tore off the lock to open it. Took the child’s pillow from und
James Newman
Mar 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I became aware of this book after recently reading a Hunter S. Thompson biography, wherein it describes how Hunter discovered the book in New York, and did his best to imitate Dangerfield's lifestyle. After reading the Ginger Man it became apparent that Hunter had at last found a hard act to follow in terms of womanising, alcohol abuse and empty promises.

Apparently the Ginger Man was turned down by something like 40 publishers before finding it's way to the mainly pornographic publishers Olympi
Apr 30, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
How important is it for the reader to like the central protagonist of a novel? Obviously if one is going to spend hundreds of pages in – or around – a character’s head, then it is preferable to empathise with him or her. However there are some books, Dostoyevsky’s ‘Notes From Underground’ say, where clearly we are not supposed to like the central character and yet the passion of the prose is such that we can’t help but admire the work anyway.

These thoughts were high in my mind as I read ‘The Gin
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
A great big stream of consciousness slice of life book about the boozing, lazy, nasty, cruel, selfish Sebastian Dangerfield, an American in Dublin who is supposed to be studying law at Trinity but instead drinks all day, chases women and exchanges abuse with his wife.

To be sure, Sebastian is an unpleasant character, but that doesn’t bother me. I was simply bored by the events of the novel. I didn’t find it, as all the blurbs promised, an exuberant, witty, wildly comic escapade. Donleavy’s writin
Aug 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
I couldn't help but think of the fine British comedy Withnail And I while reading this. Much like the dialogue in that film, Donleavy's witty, loosely constructed vignettes might be a bit disorienting at first bit they grow on you and you find yourself chuckling more and more especially in the more bizarre stream of consciousness moments (kangaroo costumes, public transportation "wardrobe malfunctions"). The other point of reference for me was Tropic Of Cancer as the narrator is also an "anti he ...more
Ade Bailey
Mar 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I wonder if neuroscientists will ever be able to analyse tears that contain the byproducts of great happiness and great sadness at the same time. And what is such an intense feeling called? Even to think of this book brings a tear to my eye, and reading it I cry buckets. This horrible, loveable, picaresque hero and antihero, this moonchild of Irish imagination. Wow
May 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
#99 on the Modern Library Board's List. Published in 1955. If there's a reason people don't succeed in working through the Modern Library backwards, it's probably this. "The Ginger Man" is a novel for no one, except perhaps sociopathic poser intellectuals who find bawdy antipathy entertaining.

I'll start with Donleavy's prose style, the only redeeming thing about the novel. "The Ginger Man" swerves wildly between the first and third person, an interior monologue one moment and a systematic sketch
Mick Stepp
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: scoundrels, re-reads
I have to be careful when I talk about this book. Especially with women. Most women despise The Ginger Man. Actually, what they despise is the Sebastian Dangerfield character for he is a drunken, misogynistic, lecherous scoundrel, the very kind of man they are terrified that their daughters might someday meet. The more open minded among them, however, appreciate the quality of Donleavy's rendering, the richness and inventiveness of the language and the out and out hilarity of the story.

I love wo
Joe Mossa
Feb 01, 2008 rated it it was ok

this is # 99 on my list of 100. i received the greatest joy when i read the last page and didn t have to spend any more time with ,sabastian. is this a great novel cause donleavy describes in great detail one of the worst characters in literature ? he is cruel to women and yet they keep coming back to him. he doesn t work, barely studies his law books, has no redeeming qualities. he reminds me of the college drunks who wasted their education in college. there are so many bad books on this list
Sometimes I am absolutely baffled as to why certain books are on the Modern Library Top 100 book list. This is certainly one of those. Sebastian Dangerfield is an American studying law at Trinity College in Dublin just after WWII, married and with a daughter, and with a serious drinking problem and a really, really bad attitude. He is a 100% unredeemable character, beating and humiliating his wife and trying to smother his daughter in one of his rages. He very occasionally studies or goes to his ...more
Erin Stair
Aug 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
J.P. Donleavy is a gd genius.
It's amazing that people are giving this book bad reviews, simply because they didn't like the central character or his woman-hating, baby-bashing behavior. As I read more and more reviews, especially from younger people, they seem to be positive only if 1) they like the main character and approve of his morals/behavior and 2) if the story made them feel good. Not me. If you judge this book for its prose; story telling; humanness; authenticity; real-life's
Peter Swanson
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Poetry and smut. What more could you ask for?
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In a moment of what I took to be lucidity, I realised that the so-called 'Irish branch' of modernism, based in large part on the interior monologue, is very similar in form to being regaled at the bar by a brilliant and vociferous drunk. Self-deprecating, stubborn, scatalogical, obtuse, perverse and grandstanding. Beckett in spades. The narrative turns in on itself, runs out of steam, picks up again, perhaps when the next round of drinks gets in. It plays hard-and-fast with its own conventions a ...more
Loring Wirbel
Dublin certainly went crazy in the summer of 2015 celebrating the 60th anniversary of Donleavy's first book. Special forums were held at Trinity College, mere blocks away from Sebastian Dangerfield's favorite drinking establishments. And Johnny Depp, who has threatened for a decade to produce a film version of The Ginger Man starring himself, was recruited to write a brief but to-the-point foreword to this beautiful Lilliput memorial hardback edition.

So how does Donleavy's inaugural work hold up
Alli Treman
Feb 28, 2010 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Laura Leaney
Jan 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Oh my Irish stars, I'm glad as hell to be done with this novel. I did laugh. But I also cried at how long I had to spend in the head and world of Sebastian Dangerfield, an American with the English, no Irish, accent of the permanently inebriated. I'm no delicate flower, but Dangerfield's gross debauchery left me "cold as a eunuch's balls on the quays." At one point he calls one of his adulterous escapades "bestial bedlam." And it is. Wife and baby at home, too busy freezing to worry about starvi ...more
John Beck
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, fiction

The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy is one of the books I've had on my shelf for years that I've always meant to read. It was a gift from a friend who knew my love for rollicks.

The Ginger Man is every inch the rollick. Written in mainly as the running interior monologue of Sebastian Dangerfield, the text is littered with traces of the high modernists; Donleavy's punctuation seems haphazard until you realize that it's written in t
Brent Mckay
May 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
it must be some sort of literary masterstroke to make me read and mostly enjoy 350 pages about an unlikable sociopath. this book made me want to shower very thoroughly afterwards...and then have some tea. writing this, i feel like i have a filth caked on me from having witnessed Donleavy's transgressions and yet stayed with him/the book afterwards, somehow empathizing enough to where Donleavy made me part of Dangerfield's mistakes, and yet capable of the very empathy of which Dangerfield is not. ...more
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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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