Ian "Marvin" Graye's Reviews > The Ginger Man

The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy
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bookshelves: read-2017, reviews, reviews-4-stars, don-leavy



"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 fight, punch or slap with your rivals, your peers, your mates or your wife, partner or mistress.

Manning Clark’s reference to comfort begs the question: for what are we receiving comfort? It doesn’t seem that parenthood, marriage or relationships are particularly stressful, at least for the “ginger man”, Sebastian Dangerfield. His greatest source of stress is his desperate poverty, which he seems to share with most of his Irish friends, even though he is a law student at Trinity College, Dublin (a Protestant from the USA), and most of them are poorly paid manual workers (Catholics or micks). With poverty comes the need to rent a home, and the inability to pay the landlord, so Dangerfield is continually hounded by his landlord, the dreaded Egbert Skully, who doubles as his own debt collector and haunts him like a troll.

Lilly, Rose, Mary and the Jack of Hearts

If Dangerfield has one more source of comfort, it’s his way with words. He hasn’t “got looks, but brains and wit”. He has a vulgar charm about him, even if he is always out to seduce the nearest woman:

“Being the sort of person I am, I make life pleasant for everybody. I’m not hard to live with. No bad breath or secret vulgarities.”

Only he (a serial adulterer, rogue and scoundrel) seems instead to be an agent of chaos for the women in his life, intent only on fucking them and extorting money out of them (he robs them of both their virtue and their savings), both being skills at which he proves particularly adept.

The Adoration of the Calvinist Prod

Donleavy seems to adore Dangerfield, as he did the model for the character, Gainor Crist. Dangerfield gets the best lines, while Donleavy habitually switches from third person to first person narrative, as smoothly and imperceptibly as a pint of Guinness going down after a hard day's work. Donleavy often writes in short, abbreviated, staccato sentences, which create an urgency of motion or emotion, especially when the protagonists are embedded. He also resorts to modest alliteration, which delights as much as finding a sixpence in your pudding at the pub.

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

"The sun of Sunday morning up out of the sleepless sea from black Liverpool. Sitting on the rocks over the water with a jug of coffee. Down there along the harbour pier, trippers in bright colours. Sails moving out to sea. Young couples climbing the Balscaddoon Road to the top of Kilrick to search out grass and lie between the furze. A cold green sea breaking whitely along the granite coast. A day on which all things are born, like uncovered stars."

"Hide? What am I? A scoundrel, a sneak? Not a bit. Face her. You're lovely. Absolutely lovely. Put my face on your spring breasts. Take you to Paris and tie your hair in knots with summer leaves."

"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."

"Tightly she held his hand. Thinking happiness. The windows low down beneath the grates. People collected in the cellars around red specks of fire, grey heads on grey chests. Most of Dublin dead."

"It's such a long pleasant night. I hope I can remember this when I am suffering. Her gentle fingers. Sweet substances of girl, alone and damp and loving me and moving over me, over me and over, covered safe with her heart and each other's thighs, my head gone away, tickling teasing, curling hairs and hood of smells and flesh and salt taste like swimming."

"Be my guest. We'll have dinner with Miss Frost. Be nice. I think she gives, Kenneth. Might be worthwhile looking into it. Wouldn't you like a bit of that thing they do in the dark?"

"She led him slowly and carefully to her bedroom. Lowering him to the edge of the bed. He sat there elbows on his thighs, hands hanging from his wrists."


Howth Harbour, Dublin, the sun of Sunday morning, December, 2016

[Mostly in the Words of JP Donleavy]


In Dublin
Some girl let him
Remove her blouse
And feel her

Ode to Tits

I'll tell you what I want
And it's all that I want:
I want a woman
With awful big tits.
The biggest tits in whoredom
Would rescue me from boredom.
If I had a woman
With an awful big pair,
I'd be as happy as sin,
We'd spend all night in bed
And all day in the tub,
You'd not see me in the pub.
Oh the tits, oh the tits!
They're my favourite bits!

Ode to Arses

Mary Maloney's got
A beautiful arse
If she won't let
Me grab it,
Maybe perhaps
I could handle
A little bit
Of largesse

A Bottom Felt
[In the words of JP Donleavy]

When I've felt
A bottom,
Like hers, I
Won't forget
Too fast
Or ever.


Bob Dylan - "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts"


Bob Dylan - "Up to Me"


"Everything went from bad to worse, money never changed a thing
Death kept followin’, trackin’ us down, at least I heard your bluebird sing
Now somebody’s got to show their hand, time is an enemy
I know you’re long gone, I guess it must be up to me"

RTE Radio - "The Catacombs (Dublin Night Club)"


'The Catacombs' was a night club that operated from the basement of 13 Fitzwilliam Place, in the centre of Dublin, in the late 1940's. The Catacombs attracted a bohemian crowd. A number of young aspiring writers such as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, JP Donleavy and Anthony Cronin were regulars. The Catacombs featured in 'The Ginger Man.'

This is a fascinating documentary and well worth listening to, if you're interested in youth subcultures.

February 13, 2017
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Reading Progress

May 18, 2012 – Shelved
February 8, 2017 – Started Reading
February 8, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
February 11, 2017 –
page 146
41.48% "You may think me only a conceited Prod but there is more to me than that."
February 11, 2017 –
page 159
45.17% "Get the bloody stout and
Never mind the black dog.
This is going to be
A bloody great party."
February 11, 2017 –
page 176
50.0% "The waitress,
A lovely black
Build of a girl,
Full mouth and white teeth
And healthy breasts
Full of opulent
As she came with
Plates of stuff."
February 13, 2017 – Shelved as: read-2017
February 13, 2017 – Shelved as: reviews
February 13, 2017 – Shelved as: reviews-4-stars
February 13, 2017 – Shelved as: don-leavy
February 13, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Michael Your coverage is scrumptious. Why is a lecherous scoundrel more acceptable when he puts his non-PC obsessions down so poetically. Such a fine line between lusting and laughing with him and laughing at him. Now I feel a coward for granting it only 4 stars, misled to think of it as just charming with trivial ambition

message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Michael wrote: "Your coverage is scrumptious. Why is a lecherous scoundrel more acceptable when he puts his non-PC obsessions down so poetically. Such a fine line between lusting and laughing with him and laughing..."

We agree on the rating, perhaps because we both derived a guilty pleasure from it!

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