Best-sell­ing au­thor J.P. Don­leavy, 91

Pawtucket Times - - OBITUARIES/REGION -

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.

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