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J.P. Donleavy, Author of "The Ginger Man," Outlasts Most of the Writers He Influenced
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From the NYT:

J.P. Donleavy, Acclaimed Author of ‘The Ginger Man,’ Dies at 91
By ANITA GATES SEPT. 13, 2017

One of the more oddly influential literary careers was that of J.P. Donleavy, author of the 1955 novel The Ginger Man about an American who moves to Ireland to buckle down and finally get serious about working on his career as a drunk.

As I wrote in my review of Colin Quinn’s 2015 book The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America:

His father, whose death in 2012 at age 80 was likely the impetus for Quinn finally writing a book, was a professor of English at City College who had big, if unconventional, dreams for his son. Both of them were inspired by J.P. Donleavy’s peculiarly influential 1955 comic novel, The Ginger Man. If the first Velvet Underground album sold only 10,000 copies but every purchaser started a band, it sometimes seems as if every reader of The Ginger Man, such as Hunter S. Thompson, set out to become an alcoholic bard. Quinn recalls:

My father, who also loved these writers, enabled my delusions…. He loved the idea of me being a wild Irish poet-writer. I loved the idea, too. Both of us wanted me to be this guy. My father never said, “Hey, wait a minute, you’re just a drunk!”

Eventually, after a series of macroaggressions that often found Quinn waking up, bruised, in places like the median of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, he figured that out for himself. He stopped drinking and finally started working on his stand-up.

 
    []
  1. I have met many a drinker with a writing problem who loved The Ginger Man. The Pogues song Fairytale of New York was named after J. P. Donleavy’s 1973 novel A Fairy Tale of New York.

    Nice little documentary on J.P. Donleavy.

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  2. hhsiii says:

    It actually sold about 40,000 on first run (a lot more by now). And Eno said everyone that bought one started a band. Mostly bad ones.

    Read More
  3. donut says:

    “J.P. Donleavy” was a one hit wonder . He accidentally stumbled into fame and then vanished .

    Read More
  4. Christ, I’m sorry to hear this. I knew that he was getting on in years, but it still hurts when it happens.

    I know that people talk about Donleavy in terms of his alcoholic anti-hero in The Ginger Man, but I think that is misleading. His books are really about loneliness and the importance of having friends around you, even if they get you kicked out of prep school like in The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B or steal your silverware like Ronald Rashers in the Darcy Dancer books.

    The Ginger Man is still a good place to start if you haven’t read him, but don’t go into it expecting Lucky Jim or The Rachel Papers. I first bought it when I was in college on the strength of the blurb by Dorothy Parker that it was “lusty, violent, wildly funny … the picaresque novel to stop them all.” I guess I was expecting a modern version of Tom Jones. But boy, that’s not what I got. The main character drinks himself into poverty and loses his wife and child, in a country ruined by poverty and drink. Think Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting (the book, not the movie), or Charles Bukowski with Irish plumbing. I abandoned it, but I picked it up again in my late 20s, when I was smarter and tougher, and that’s when I fell in love with it.

    I don’t know if he has outlived ALL the people he inspired — Johnny Depp is looking the worse for wear, but he is still around, and Bruce Robinson is still active. Besides, I think Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas were more popular role models. Donleavy himself was not much of a drinker, I think.

    But I think he has outlived the culture’s ability to appreciate him. I can’t imagine that people raised on Harry Potter or Maya Angelou will even understand him, much less enjoy him. I just checked around on the Web, and the New York Times is going to run its article in print on Page B15 of the New York edition (and only the New York edition?), as a straight obituary, I guess. On the Web page, the Donleavy article is below articles about Angelina Jolie, and nominees for the Man Booker Award. There is still nothing on the Web pages for the L.A. Times or the Washington Post or the U.K. Daily Mail, or on the Drudge Report. My God, this man was a giant. The Ginger Man was on Modern Library’s top 100 novels of the 20th century.

    And so it goes.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Rapparee

    I don’t know if he has outlived ALL the people he inspired...
     
    Shane MacGowan was apparently a fan, and in some cosmic joke, he's miraculously still alive and about to turn sixty in a few months. Granted, he does look like he's dead.
  5. duncsbaby says:

    I finally got around to reading The Ginger Man a couple of years ago & was quite disappointed. Not funny, just depressing, the “hero,” was a charmless drunk who still miraculously was able to bed quite a few low self-esteem chicks. Thanks for linking to the Colin Quinn book. I always liked him & kinda thought his book might be a soft read for some reason. Just reading the excerpts you printed was more enjoyment I got from the whole of the Ginger Man.

    Read More
    • Replies: @grapesoda
    For a woman the book is about how sexy the main character is? lol Maybe it had some deeper existential themes about human nature that went over your head

    PS No surprise at all that the newer generations would have zero interest in a book about suffering. They want the big lie, all the time, and they don't care if it's bulls*** underneath. The only suffering they acknowledge is the one wrapped in victim chic

  6. The Ginger Man (and Balthasar B) was on many a 1973 student bookshelf, along with Mervyn Peake and Carlos Castenada.

    Read More
  7. grapesoda says:
    @duncsbaby
    I finally got around to reading The Ginger Man a couple of years ago & was quite disappointed. Not funny, just depressing, the "hero," was a charmless drunk who still miraculously was able to bed quite a few low self-esteem chicks. Thanks for linking to the Colin Quinn book. I always liked him & kinda thought his book might be a soft read for some reason. Just reading the excerpts you printed was more enjoyment I got from the whole of the Ginger Man.

    For a woman the book is about how sexy the main character is? lol Maybe it had some deeper existential themes about human nature that went over your head

    PS No surprise at all that the newer generations would have zero interest in a book about suffering. They want the big lie, all the time, and they don’t care if it’s bulls*** underneath. The only suffering they acknowledge is the one wrapped in victim chic

    Read More
    • Replies: @duncsbaby
    "Maybe it had some deeper existential themes about human nature that went over your head."
    - Have you read the book? Tell me the deeper existential themes that are present in it. I was expecting a black comedy masterpiece but what I got was a dreary slog about a dreary life. The protagonist is basically an asshole who uses others in an arrogant manner. It was written well enough for me to see it through to the end but very little about it resonated with me on a deeper existential level or on a darkly comic level. I understand others think it's a masterpiece and I don't think they are wrong, they see things in the book that I didn't see. From your comments it doesn't sound like you read it though, you just want to mock me for not thinking it was as good a book as I expected and others believe it to be. Tell me why you think the protagonist is not a charmless drunk, not why you think the "newer generations would have zero interest in a book about suffering."
    PS, I bet I'm older than you, Sonny Jim.
  8. Dave Pinsen says: • Website

    There’s a bar in New York called The Ginger Man. I wonder if that’s where they got the name. http://www.gingerman-ny.com

    Read More
    • Replies: @ben tillman

    There’s a bar in New York called The Ginger Man. I wonder if that’s where they got the name. http://www.gingerman-ny.com
     
    They got the name from the bar in Rice Village in Houston. I had a first date there back in 1990. I told her if threw a bullseye, I got to kiss her. I threw a double. And I'm not even good at darts.

    They opened a second location, in Dallas, in 1992. I was there for happy hour on Friday the first 20 weeks it was open. Then one Friday I was introduced to a girl I almost (and probably should have) married.

    They've opened a number of locations since then including, apparently, one in New York.

  9. In one of her conversations with Glenn Loury after getting in trouble for that Op-Ed about Bourgeois values, Amy Wax says something like how the world needs bohemians but everybody can’t be a bohemian, most people have to be the boring bourgeoisie that the bohemians are rebelling against. It’s a fine line as lines go, but it’s not like everybody is really trying to be a romantic alcoholic poet or artist these days; it’s kinda depressing at least in New York how all the old music clubs and funky bookstores and off-off theatres in lower Manhattan and most of Brooklyn have closed or disappeared. It’s all too damn expensive to bother with trying to pretend you’re Dylan Thomas or the Ginger Man, I suppose, or maybe the wrong people are doing it- the kind of people who move to Brooklyn these days are the Student Council Presidents who managed Hillary’s campaign. Not exactly bohemians. The next Lena Dunham is no doubt among them, but not the next Thomas or Keats.

    I realize Wax was talking about not the upper middle class strivers who might cover their bourgeois aspirations with a patina of “I live in Brooklyn” wannabe hipness, but the greater portion of younger non-college grads (especially whites) who just don’t have life scripts to keep them moving ahead in life the way their grandparents did. Charles Murray also had a line in Coming Apart about how upper middle class folks should preach what they practice and proselytize the bourgeois virtues rather than pretending to be groovy free spirits even while living very conventional lives, while the rest of society falls apart. I don’t think that would work, but what do I know; I saw a graph the other day showing how quickly and far the word “love” had fallen as a portion of pop song lyrics. Can’t have a decent boring bourgeoisie *or* decent romantic alcoholic bohemian poets if nobody believes in love anymore.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Desiderius

    the greater portion of younger non-college grads (especially whites) who just don’t have life scripts to keep them moving ahead in life the way their grandparents did
     
    The bigger problem is that many of those who do have life scripts these days are moving in directions that aren't truly ahead by any reasonable definition.
    , @MBlanc46
    Love has always been more ideology than reality. Civilization is built on that ideology. Society developed technologically and organizationally to the point where women saw what they thought was an opportunity escape from restrictions of the love ideology, and without one half of the players, the ideology took a major hit. We'll see how it all turns out.
    , @keypusher
    It's a strange world. Pop culture is so constructive nowadays. Never mind J.P. Donleavy, think of Saturday morning cartoons from a couple of generations ago. It's the cigarettes and racism that people cluck over, but I remember watching Warner Brothers shorts where the gag is that all the characters are being thwarted from committing suicide, or a man winds up homeless and then in an insane asylum because the singing frog will sing only for him.

    My teenage daughter is almost comically risk-averse, and so are her classmates. They are "privileged," most of them, and maybe rich kids have always been risk averse, but I don't think so. I wonder how the kids you see in school compare with their parents.
  10. @donut
    "J.P. Donleavy" was a one hit wonder . He accidentally stumbled into fame and then vanished .

    You’re so empty on the inside.

    Read More
  11. Rapparee says:
    @Jeff the Donleavy Fan
    Christ, I'm sorry to hear this. I knew that he was getting on in years, but it still hurts when it happens.

    I know that people talk about Donleavy in terms of his alcoholic anti-hero in The Ginger Man, but I think that is misleading. His books are really about loneliness and the importance of having friends around you, even if they get you kicked out of prep school like in The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B or steal your silverware like Ronald Rashers in the Darcy Dancer books.

    The Ginger Man is still a good place to start if you haven't read him, but don't go into it expecting Lucky Jim or The Rachel Papers. I first bought it when I was in college on the strength of the blurb by Dorothy Parker that it was "lusty, violent, wildly funny ... the picaresque novel to stop them all." I guess I was expecting a modern version of Tom Jones. But boy, that's not what I got. The main character drinks himself into poverty and loses his wife and child, in a country ruined by poverty and drink. Think Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (the book, not the movie), or Charles Bukowski with Irish plumbing. I abandoned it, but I picked it up again in my late 20s, when I was smarter and tougher, and that's when I fell in love with it.

    I don't know if he has outlived ALL the people he inspired -- Johnny Depp is looking the worse for wear, but he is still around, and Bruce Robinson is still active. Besides, I think Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas were more popular role models. Donleavy himself was not much of a drinker, I think.

    But I think he has outlived the culture's ability to appreciate him. I can't imagine that people raised on Harry Potter or Maya Angelou will even understand him, much less enjoy him. I just checked around on the Web, and the New York Times is going to run its article in print on Page B15 of the New York edition (and only the New York edition?), as a straight obituary, I guess. On the Web page, the Donleavy article is below articles about Angelina Jolie, and nominees for the Man Booker Award. There is still nothing on the Web pages for the L.A. Times or the Washington Post or the U.K. Daily Mail, or on the Drudge Report. My God, this man was a giant. The Ginger Man was on Modern Library's top 100 novels of the 20th century.

    And so it goes.

    I don’t know if he has outlived ALL the people he inspired…

    Shane MacGowan was apparently a fan, and in some cosmic joke, he’s miraculously still alive and about to turn sixty in a few months. Granted, he does look like he’s dead.

    Read More
  12. duncsbaby says:
    @grapesoda
    For a woman the book is about how sexy the main character is? lol Maybe it had some deeper existential themes about human nature that went over your head

    PS No surprise at all that the newer generations would have zero interest in a book about suffering. They want the big lie, all the time, and they don't care if it's bulls*** underneath. The only suffering they acknowledge is the one wrapped in victim chic

    “Maybe it had some deeper existential themes about human nature that went over your head.”
    - Have you read the book? Tell me the deeper existential themes that are present in it. I was expecting a black comedy masterpiece but what I got was a dreary slog about a dreary life. The protagonist is basically an asshole who uses others in an arrogant manner. It was written well enough for me to see it through to the end but very little about it resonated with me on a deeper existential level or on a darkly comic level. I understand others think it’s a masterpiece and I don’t think they are wrong, they see things in the book that I didn’t see. From your comments it doesn’t sound like you read it though, you just want to mock me for not thinking it was as good a book as I expected and others believe it to be. Tell me why you think the protagonist is not a charmless drunk, not why you think the “newer generations would have zero interest in a book about suffering.”
    PS, I bet I’m older than you, Sonny Jim.

    Read More
  13. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    God’s mercy
    On the wild
    Ginger Man.

    And on the author as well.

    Read More
  14. dd says:

    I’m surprised that anyone non-Irish would “get” The Gingerman. It captures a type of Irishman very well, even if it’s not pretty and happy.

    Read More
  15. It was said that everyone who saw the Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester went on to form a band!

    Read More
  16. @Dave Pinsen
    There's a bar in New York called The Ginger Man. I wonder if that's where they got the name. http://www.gingerman-ny.com

    There’s a bar in New York called The Ginger Man. I wonder if that’s where they got the name. http://www.gingerman-ny.com

    They got the name from the bar in Rice Village in Houston. I had a first date there back in 1990. I told her if threw a bullseye, I got to kiss her. I threw a double. And I’m not even good at darts.

    They opened a second location, in Dallas, in 1992. I was there for happy hour on Friday the first 20 weeks it was open. Then one Friday I was introduced to a girl I almost (and probably should have) married.

    They’ve opened a number of locations since then including, apparently, one in New York.

    Read More
  17. @Spotted Toad
    In one of her conversations with Glenn Loury after getting in trouble for that Op-Ed about Bourgeois values, Amy Wax says something like how the world needs bohemians but everybody can't be a bohemian, most people have to be the boring bourgeoisie that the bohemians are rebelling against. It's a fine line as lines go, but it's not like everybody is really trying to be a romantic alcoholic poet or artist these days; it's kinda depressing at least in New York how all the old music clubs and funky bookstores and off-off theatres in lower Manhattan and most of Brooklyn have closed or disappeared. It's all too damn expensive to bother with trying to pretend you're Dylan Thomas or the Ginger Man, I suppose, or maybe the wrong people are doing it- the kind of people who move to Brooklyn these days are the Student Council Presidents who managed Hillary's campaign. Not exactly bohemians. The next Lena Dunham is no doubt among them, but not the next Thomas or Keats.

    I realize Wax was talking about not the upper middle class strivers who might cover their bourgeois aspirations with a patina of "I live in Brooklyn" wannabe hipness, but the greater portion of younger non-college grads (especially whites) who just don't have life scripts to keep them moving ahead in life the way their grandparents did. Charles Murray also had a line in Coming Apart about how upper middle class folks should preach what they practice and proselytize the bourgeois virtues rather than pretending to be groovy free spirits even while living very conventional lives, while the rest of society falls apart. I don't think that would work, but what do I know; I saw a graph the other day showing how quickly and far the word "love" had fallen as a portion of pop song lyrics. Can't have a decent boring bourgeoisie *or* decent romantic alcoholic bohemian poets if nobody believes in love anymore.

    the greater portion of younger non-college grads (especially whites) who just don’t have life scripts to keep them moving ahead in life the way their grandparents did

    The bigger problem is that many of those who do have life scripts these days are moving in directions that aren’t truly ahead by any reasonable definition.

    Read More
  18. MBlanc46 says:
    @Spotted Toad
    In one of her conversations with Glenn Loury after getting in trouble for that Op-Ed about Bourgeois values, Amy Wax says something like how the world needs bohemians but everybody can't be a bohemian, most people have to be the boring bourgeoisie that the bohemians are rebelling against. It's a fine line as lines go, but it's not like everybody is really trying to be a romantic alcoholic poet or artist these days; it's kinda depressing at least in New York how all the old music clubs and funky bookstores and off-off theatres in lower Manhattan and most of Brooklyn have closed or disappeared. It's all too damn expensive to bother with trying to pretend you're Dylan Thomas or the Ginger Man, I suppose, or maybe the wrong people are doing it- the kind of people who move to Brooklyn these days are the Student Council Presidents who managed Hillary's campaign. Not exactly bohemians. The next Lena Dunham is no doubt among them, but not the next Thomas or Keats.

    I realize Wax was talking about not the upper middle class strivers who might cover their bourgeois aspirations with a patina of "I live in Brooklyn" wannabe hipness, but the greater portion of younger non-college grads (especially whites) who just don't have life scripts to keep them moving ahead in life the way their grandparents did. Charles Murray also had a line in Coming Apart about how upper middle class folks should preach what they practice and proselytize the bourgeois virtues rather than pretending to be groovy free spirits even while living very conventional lives, while the rest of society falls apart. I don't think that would work, but what do I know; I saw a graph the other day showing how quickly and far the word "love" had fallen as a portion of pop song lyrics. Can't have a decent boring bourgeoisie *or* decent romantic alcoholic bohemian poets if nobody believes in love anymore.

    Love has always been more ideology than reality. Civilization is built on that ideology. Society developed technologically and organizationally to the point where women saw what they thought was an opportunity escape from restrictions of the love ideology, and without one half of the players, the ideology took a major hit. We’ll see how it all turns out.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Sean
    It was the sex in J.P. Donleavy's book that was innovative and made it popular. N.E. Onecandoit.
  19. Sean says:
    @MBlanc46
    Love has always been more ideology than reality. Civilization is built on that ideology. Society developed technologically and organizationally to the point where women saw what they thought was an opportunity escape from restrictions of the love ideology, and without one half of the players, the ideology took a major hit. We'll see how it all turns out.

    It was the sex in J.P. Donleavy’s book that was innovative and made it popular. N.E. Onecandoit.

    Read More
  20. Alden says:

    I read Gingerman and Balthazar. I found them very funny. Guess I didn’t read the underlying themes of drink and loneliness.

    Read More
  21. keypusher says:
    @Spotted Toad
    In one of her conversations with Glenn Loury after getting in trouble for that Op-Ed about Bourgeois values, Amy Wax says something like how the world needs bohemians but everybody can't be a bohemian, most people have to be the boring bourgeoisie that the bohemians are rebelling against. It's a fine line as lines go, but it's not like everybody is really trying to be a romantic alcoholic poet or artist these days; it's kinda depressing at least in New York how all the old music clubs and funky bookstores and off-off theatres in lower Manhattan and most of Brooklyn have closed or disappeared. It's all too damn expensive to bother with trying to pretend you're Dylan Thomas or the Ginger Man, I suppose, or maybe the wrong people are doing it- the kind of people who move to Brooklyn these days are the Student Council Presidents who managed Hillary's campaign. Not exactly bohemians. The next Lena Dunham is no doubt among them, but not the next Thomas or Keats.

    I realize Wax was talking about not the upper middle class strivers who might cover their bourgeois aspirations with a patina of "I live in Brooklyn" wannabe hipness, but the greater portion of younger non-college grads (especially whites) who just don't have life scripts to keep them moving ahead in life the way their grandparents did. Charles Murray also had a line in Coming Apart about how upper middle class folks should preach what they practice and proselytize the bourgeois virtues rather than pretending to be groovy free spirits even while living very conventional lives, while the rest of society falls apart. I don't think that would work, but what do I know; I saw a graph the other day showing how quickly and far the word "love" had fallen as a portion of pop song lyrics. Can't have a decent boring bourgeoisie *or* decent romantic alcoholic bohemian poets if nobody believes in love anymore.

    It’s a strange world. Pop culture is so constructive nowadays. Never mind J.P. Donleavy, think of Saturday morning cartoons from a couple of generations ago. It’s the cigarettes and racism that people cluck over, but I remember watching Warner Brothers shorts where the gag is that all the characters are being thwarted from committing suicide, or a man winds up homeless and then in an insane asylum because the singing frog will sing only for him.

    My teenage daughter is almost comically risk-averse, and so are her classmates. They are “privileged,” most of them, and maybe rich kids have always been risk averse, but I don’t think so. I wonder how the kids you see in school compare with their parents.

    Read More
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