My review of The Ginger Man (and I rate in order of preference the 10 classics I read last year.)

So, I finally reached the last book on my ‘Reading Gym’ list, although that term never really worked for me.  I still prefer Andy Miller’s term ‘The List of Betterment.’

Anyway, ‘The Ginger Man by J.P.Donleavy is a book I had been meaning to read for some considerable time.  Considered a classic of Irish literature, it was first published in 1955.  Mr Donleavy died last year at the age of 91.   The Ginger Man sold over 45 million copies worldwide and was banned in Ireland until the 1970s.

The Ginger Man

Apparently, Donleavy said that being a writer is about ‘just catching your unconscious.’

This is an apt and wonderful description of the incredible prose in this novel.  For incredible it is.  Donleavy has taken the rule book and thrown in out the window.  He jumps from third person to first, he jumps from past to present, sometimes mid-sentence.  He writes stream of consciousness. Yet every word is glorious, no word is wasted.  I began marking sentences I liked, but in the end, there were too many.  It is a masterclass of descriptive and comic writing.

Sebastian Dangerfield is a Trininty Law Student who comes from the States.  Married to the long-suffering Marion, they have a young child, and Dangerfield is down on his luck.  All we know he has going for him is his upper-class accent and his background (although this is also left as something of a mystery).  He is a Bon Viveur to the extreme.  No day is complete without a few good malts and a good fry up, perhaps followed with a rumble in the hay with whoever is obliging.  Faithful? Pah – it doesn’t exist in his vocabulary.  He loves with abandon and lust.

The setting of the streets and pubs of Dublin is so evocative and visceral I could almost smell the peat.  Just reading the book gave me a craving for sausages and copious amounts of tea, so vivid are his descriptions of the many breakfasts he is cooked by one of his many women, be it Chris, Miss Frost or his final female companion Mary.  He is more than a rogue and I was definitely not enamoured at all of the violence the character displayed towards women at times.

A lovable rogue?  More like a good for nothing violent, selfish, devil.  Yet why I found myself liking him slightly I couldn’t figure.  Many women hate Dangerfield for his drunken violence, yet to dismiss him as a violent drunk is to look far too simplistically at this character, in my opinion.

He is undoubtedly cruel to his wife and not always kind to the other women he meets, yet he loves and reveres women and is pushed to near breaking point by his circumstances.  People will see what they want to see, but I believe him to be a complex character, who, although he doesn’t deserve one iota of pity, also doesn’t deserve to be written off due to some of his behaviour.

Yet he is a horror of a man who drinks, gambles, fights and womanizes his way through life.  Despite always scrambling for his next penny, he has an unfailing optimism and resilience that sees him though many scrapes and has the women falling for his easy charm.  I think that may be what it is – he makes you believe that there is always hope and the possibility of a better tomorrow.

However, he himself convinces no-one that he will ever change, least of all himself.  He continues with his delusions. Here he reflects on all his passions with a practical attitude:

‘I’m starved for love. Not ordinary love but real love…..’If I got Mary as the maid, Chris as the boarder, Miss Frost as secretary and Marion to run the whole lot, we’d be a great bunch.  Then take my proper place in society, suits overhauled and the rest.  O there’ll be changes made…At least I have rules. And I know society respects a man for his discipline.’

He always believes he can be a good man, get his degree and earn a living, and yet at the slightest thought of hard work he is off to the pub for a swift one.

The humour that runs through the book is dirty and delightful.  Even at the height of his troubles, as the reader, you never doubt that Sebastian Dangerfield will survive. The comic mastery of this novel leaps off the page, and some of the bar brawls had me in stitches in spite of myself.

If you delight in the construction of a well written sentence and vivid description of place, you will love this book.   I found myself completely swept up in the madness and it certainly started January off with a bang!!   I think it is one of those books you just have to read!

So I have finished my List of Betterment started in 2017.  Here is the list of books I read ranked in order of preference.

  1. Stoner by John Williams. Still my favourite novel by a long shot.   A subtle beautifully told poignant tale.  Read it and weep.
  2. The Ginger Man by J.P.Donleavy. For all the reasons above!
  3. Middlemarch by George Elliot. A wonderful saga.
  4. Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. I so enjoyed the style and content of his musings!  One I definitely want to read again.
  5. Les Jeux Sont Faits by Sartre. Anything that makes you question the nature of life and death is right up my street!
  6. The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov.  An intriguing and riotous read!
  7. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Mixed feelings about this one.  Don’t remember much about it – never a good sign.
  8. Persuasion by Jane Austen. Enjoyable but a bit ‘beige’ for me.  I know – how could I?
  9. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Aaaargh – get an editor for goodness sake!
  10. Atomised by Michel Houellebecq – just kill me now! Painful in every way.

So in 2018 I am reading for pleasure.  There are so many books I didn’t get to read last year, because I was ploughing my way through these and others.  This year I want to read Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.   The Break by Marion Keyes.  The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry…..oh and so many more I have piled up and ready to go!  Will try and post reviews as I go.  What are you reading in 2018?  Happy to have recommendations.  I can never have enough choice!  Thank you for following me/reading my post and I hope I may inspire you to read a book or two in 2018! We need to get off social media and back to reading.  Much better for the soul!