99. The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy

Year Published: 1965
Pages: 347
First sentence: Today a rare sun of spring.
Rating: 1/3 (don't bother)

Approach The Ginger Man gingerly.

Well, not necessarily. Best not to approach this book at all, and save yourself the trouble of an acquaintance with Sebastian Dangerfield. It seems very likely (if not at all true) that he may be singlehandedly responsible for the generally bad feelings that people have towards the ginger race.

Who he is exactly isn't quite clear. The book simply jumps into his life and offers very few real explanations or introductions. He originated somewhere in the United States and ended up in Dublin shortly after World War II, leaving behind a very rich father. In theory he studies law at Trinity College, except that he never attends class. He has an English wife named Marion, who he beats, and a baby daughter. He cheats and steals and drinks, never appearing to think of anyone but himself. An exhaustive list of all the sins he commits throughout The Ginger Man would be exhausting to compile. Basically, Sebastian Dangerfield is a horrible human being--a blackguard, if you will (can we please bring that term back into common usage?). His Ireland is the Angela's Ashes one, not the jolly, Guinness-swilling, rainy, wool sweater one.

The book does work as a character study of Sebastian. The writing style is pretty intriguing, too, if not quite coherent. It's vaguely stream-of-consciousness, fluctuating without warning between first and third person, past and present tense. Also I'm pretty sure that there isn't a single speech tag in the entire novel. It's a testament to the author's skill that usually that isn't confusing.

The saving grace of The Ginger Man is that there are some really bright bits of humour. Sebastian is saved from being totally impossible to relate to by some odd poetic sense in some of his thoughts. Still, his adventures become tedious because he won't learn anything from them. I hope I'm not giving too much away, but by the end of the book I really didn't care if he lived or died.

I have a feeling I'm missing something going on under the surface, but oh well.

- - - - -
"Kenneth, is this not a fine country?"
"Look at that woman."
"I say, Kenneth, is this not a fine country?"
"Size of watermelons."
"Kenneth, you poor bastard."
- - - - -
She waves again. She smiles once more. Please come back and play with me. Your sensible clothing is sexy.
- - - - -
This house at the end of the street. Little do you know out there, you strollers and spies perhaps, how much despair and yelling for love goes on in this shrouded house.
- - - - -

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