J.P. Don­leavy, 91, Ir­ish-Amer­i­can satir­i­cal au­thor

Boston Herald - - OBITUARIES - MR. J.P. DONLEAVEY

LON­DON — J.P. Don­leavy, the in­cor­ri­gi­ble Ir­ish-Amer­i­can au­thor and play­wright whose rib­ald de­but novel “The Ginger Man” met scorn, cen­sor­ship and even­tu­ally cel­e­bra­tion as a ground­break­ing clas­sic, has died at age 91.

Mr. Don­leavy, a na­tive New Yorker who lived his fi­nal years on an es­tate west of Dublin, died Mon­day in Ire­land. His death was con­firmed by per­sonal as­sis­tant Deb­o­rah Goss.

The au­thor of more than a dozen books, he some­times was com­pared to James Joyce as a prose stylist, but also was ad­mired for his sense of hu­mor. “The Ginger Man,” first pub­lished in 1955, sold more than 45 mil­lion copies and placed No. 99 on a Mod­ern Li­brary list of the great­est English lan­guage fic­tion of the 20th cen­tury.

“The Ginger Man’ has un­doubt­edly launched thou­sands of ben­ders, but it has also in­spired scores of writ­ers with its vivid and vis­ceral nar­ra­tive voice and the sheer po­etry of its prose,” Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Jay McIn­er­ney wrote in the in­tro­duc­tion for a 2010 reis­sue.

When the novel was pub­lished, au­thor­i­ties targeted its pro­fan­ity and graphic sex­ual con­tent. It was banned in Ire­land and the United States. Sev­eral pub­lish­ers re­jected the book be­fore it was ac­quired by the Paris-based Olympia Press, which spe­cial­ized in ex­plicit and avant-garde ma­te­ri­als. To Mr. Don­leavy’s fury, Olympia re­leased the book through an im­print ded­i­cated to pornog­ra­phy.

“The Ginger Man” is an am­bling, pi­caresque tale about the ad­ven­tures of Se­bas­tian Danger­field, an Amer­i­can in Dublin af­ter World War II who ne­glects and abuses his wife and child, mooches off his friends, bilks his land­lords, drinks wher­ever he can run up a tab and rarely lets a woman’s ap­pear­ance go un­no­ticed.

“I have dis­cov­ered one of the great ail­ments of Ire­land, 67 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion has never been com­pletely naked in their lives,” Se­bas­tian ob­serves. “I am bound to say that this must cause a great deal of the pas­sive agony one sees in the street.”

Of­ten cited as prophetic of the cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion of the 1960s, “The Ginger Man” sold so well that it en­abled Mr. Don­leavy to buy Olympia af­ter he and the pub­lisher spent years su­ing each other over rights to the book.

The au­thor ini­tially had less suc­cess adapt­ing “The Ginger Man” for the stage. The play opened in Lon­don in 1959 with Richard Har­ris as Danger­field, but closed within days in part be­cause of ob­jec­tions from the Ro­man Catholic Church. A New York pro­duc­tion starred Pa­trick O’Neal, who later opened a Man­hat­tan restau­rant and named it af­ter Mr. Don­leavy’s book.

“The Ginger Man” is also among the most promi­nent nov­els never to have been made into a fea­ture film, although those try­ing in­cluded Robert Red­ford, Mike Ni­chols and Johnny Depp.

Mr. Don­leavy, a bearded, greeneyed man who spoke with an Angli­cized ac­cent, never lost his affin­ity for odd and provoca­tive be­hav­ior. Cor­nelius Chris­tian, the pro­tag­o­nist of “A Fairy Tale in New York,” ar­rives at U.S. Cus­toms with his wife’s body in a box. In “A Sin­gu­lar Man,” the wealthy Ge­orge Smith com­poses a will that calls for his es­tate to be auc­tioned off and the pro­ceeds “con­verted to ban­knotes of small de­nom­i­na­tions and placed in a steel re­cep­ta­cle six feet high and one foot in di­am­e­ter.”

Re­view­ing “A Sin­gu­lar Man” in 1963 for The Na­tional Ob­server, a lit­tle known Hunter S. Thomp­son praised Mr. Don­leavy as a “hu­morist in the only sense of the word that has any dig­nity,” one “for­ever at war with de­spair.”

Se­bas­tian Danger­field was based on a class­mate at Trin­ity Col­lege, but Mr. Don­leavy seemed to share many of his vices, telling The Associated Press in 1992 that at school “I took my de­gree in drink­ing and har­lotry in the finer pubs of Dublin.”

He was mar­ried (and di­vorced) twice and was non­cha­lant when in­ter­view­ers noted that his sec­ond wife twice con­ceived chil­dren with other men. He be­came an Ir­ish cit­i­zen in mid­dle age af­ter the gov­ern­ment granted artists tax-ex­empt sta­tus.

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