The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy
J. P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man was released in 1955 and has since become a classic of the pre-’60s nonconformist chronicle. When the novel first appeared, Dorothy Parker called it “a rigadoon of rascality,” and in 1998, the Modern Library ranked it number 99 on their list of Top 100 Novels.
The novel’s renegade hero is Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield, an American living in Dublin and studying law at Trinity College. Dangerfield is married to an Englishwoman, Marion, and father to their infant daughter, Felicity, but his penchant for alcohol and women, as well as dodging rent, fatherhood and his studies forms the basis of the novel’s action. He’s a buttoned-down type on the Mad Men track who’s decided to chuck it all in the service of fun, snubbing bourgeois convention and yearning for the inheritance that will fund his hedonistic pursuits. The novel’s numerous female characters suffer his exploits — his wife and daughter, as well as the women he opportunistically pursues and then rejects. And though fate catches up to Dangerfield when his long-awaited inheritance is deferred, he suffers no guilt. That doesn’t hurt the novel, because with a conscience, this character wouldn’t have been nearly so entertaining. Still, I can’t help but wonder what it might have been like to see the crack in Dangerfield’s emotional armor, to see him suffer just a tad of the disappointment and loss of hope suffered by the women he encounters.