Best-selling author J.P. Donleavy, 91
J.P. Donleavy, an IrishAmerican novelist whose 1955 debut, "The Ginger Man," was rejected by 45 publishers for its scabrous, sexually explicit content but eventually sold more than 45 million copies and came to be regarded as a modern classic, died Sept. 11 at a hospital near his home in Mullingar, County Westmeath. He was 91.
A sister, Mary Rita Donleavy, told the New York Times he died after a stroke.
Donleavy was a New York native who moved to Ireland for college, adopted an outfit of corduroy and tweed (along with a matching brogue) and established himself as an itinerant successor to James Joyce. He wrote more than a dozen novels and story collections, many of them set in Dublin, and was sometimes described as one of the funniest – and finest – writers in the English language.
"No contemporary writer is better than J.P. Donleavy at his best," the New Yorker wrote in a review of "Meet My Maker the Mad Molecule," a 1964 collection with an alliterative title that became a feature in books like "The Saddest Summer of Samuel S" (1966), "The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B" (1968), and "The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman" (1977).
Yet Donleavy's literary reputation rested almost entirely on his first novel. "The Ginger Man" was a semiautobiographical account of redbearded Sebastian Dangerfield, an impoverished American World War II vet who studies at Trinity College, exposes himself on the trolley and strays far from his wife, Marion.
The novel's bawdy descriptions nearly prevented it from being published. Rather than cut the salacious bits, which in Donleavy's opinion contained the core of the book, he followed the suggestion of Irish poet Brendan Behan and submitted the novel to Olympia Press in Paris.
The publishing house would later release Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita." At the time, however, it was launching a series of potentially lucrative pornographic novels under the name Traveler's Companion, and scooped up Donleavy's book alongside titles like "White Thighs" and "School for Sin."
"When I discovered that the novel was published in this pornographic series, I realized I would never have any reputation, that the book would never exist in any real form – it was just a piece of pornography," he told Britain's Guardian newspaper in 2004. "It wouldn't get any reviews. It was a total nightmare."
Still, an abridged version of the book began to gain traction in England, and Donleavy found his revenge against Olympia in a two-decade long legal war over the rights to his novel.