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My Favourite Author - J.P.Donleavy – by Ian McDermott

Updated: May 8, 2020

Last night as I lay dreaming, I reflected on how times have changed. My mind took me back to the austere, puritanical post war years. I recall that ‘Then’, mandatory reading for non-reading male adolescents were two books, their attraction being that both were, or had been banned!

‘Lady Chatterley's Lover’ by D H Lawrence, was written in the 1920s but had been banned by the censors who in their wisdom, decreed that the use of Anglo-Saxon words in the novel was detrimental to the well-being of the nation. The publishers Penguin were prosecuted in 1960 at the Old Bailey under The Obscene Publications Act 1959 and a jury found that the use of the words in their correct context was not going to harm the morals of the public.

‘The Ginger Man’ by J,P,Donleavy was not banned but no publisher in the U.K. or the U.S. would publish it, in the climate of the times. It was eventually published in France as a 'Travel Book', then first published in the UK in a sanitised version before the explicit version of the novel appeared after the ‘Lady Chatterley’ judgement, which made it approved reading material.

That is all from memory of sixty years ago, so I am open to correction. But what I am certain of is that when a copy of ‘Lady C’ was acquired I was directed to the appropriate pages so that I could be ‘shocked’. Having indulged myself on this bit of Anglo Saxon in print I went to page 1 to start reading and gave up by page 3 as it looked ‘dead boring’, My contemporaries did the same.

But not so with ‘Ginger Man.’ It was, and still is, a very popular read. I was hooked from the beginning.

The novel is set in Dublin and the main character, Sebastian Dangerfield, is based on a friend and fellow student of the author, at Trinity College. Dangerfield is one of the most outrageous scoundrels in fiction. A womanising, boozing young wastrel who sponges off his friends and has violent tendencies. But Donleavy makes the reader sympathise with him for his ‘killer’ instinct, flamboyant charm, wit, generosity and his wild, fierce, two handed grab for every precious second of life.

Following on the success of ‘Ginger Man,' Donleavy wrote several more novels in a similar vein. The central characters being young, slightly 'odd-ball’ males who are smooth- talking seducers who get involved in a variety of comic situations, usually with catastrophic consequences, although none are quite as unconventional as Dangerfield.

‘Ginger Man’ was held back from publication for a number of reasons but most probably the main reason was because it contains X rated, over 18 content. When I last read it, about 10 years ago, it seemed quite tame compared with some modern novels that go into more graphic detail. Whil