JP Donleavy: 1926-2017

JP Donleavy — The Ginger Man

The other evening I went to an afterwork cocktail party and light dinner with a couple dozen colleagues at a local pub called “The Ginger Man.” I’ve strolled past the place countless times, but had written it off as just another bad Irish pub in a neighborhood thick with them.

The Ginger Man, now there’s a novel to remember. It was so inappropriate when it was published in the mid 1950s that it was judged too obscene to publish in the UK and US and had to be printed by some Parisian porno press. It was the debut of James Patrick Donleavy, an American-Irish novelist born in New York City and educated at Trinity College in Dublin, and is the tale of a scurrilous American law student who lives a deplorable life of chasing women and punishing his liver while his pregnant wife frets at home. It is not a novel any man’s wife is going to suggest to her book club, and Oprah isn’t going to get gushy about it. Ever.

1024px-J._P._Donleavy_appearing_on_"After_Dark"%2C_16_March_1991.jpg

Donleavy was a remarkably funny, and very talented writer. One of his later works, Schultz, is one of the funniest things I’ve read — recommended to me by my Falstaffian step-brother Joe Nickerson and his British rugby buddy, (and my proctologist) Mark Bazalgette (whose ancestor, Sir Joseph Bazalgette: invented London’s sewer) — as part of a “bad-men doing unspeakable acts” series of literary works which includes the wonderful Money by Martin Amis. Basically tales of crapulous debauchery involving pornography, alcohol, bad hygiene, and inadvertent acts of public vandalism. I would include Fight Club and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in this canon of party-hearty fiction, but The Ginger Man came first.

I walked into the bar and saw no evidence of JP Donleavy. The chalkboard behind the back bar seemed to honor some deceased customer, but not Donleavy, who passed away last month at the age of 91.

I ordered an Irish whiskey from the waiter but he claimed to have none. Detesting Guinness I looked at the list of expensive single malt scotches, asked the waiter if he was taking names and attendance, and assured of anonymity on the tab,  ordered a peaty Talisker neat. Ate a “slider”, slapped some backs, “rang the bell” making sure those who needed to note my presence took notice, and then pulled a sober Irish-goodbye to make the next train to Providence.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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