"Every madman thinks everyone else mad."

J.P. Donleavy from The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman
Photo courtesy The J.P. Donleavy Archives.
This review of The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman first appeared in The Antioch Review, Winter, 1978.

"The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman"

by Ken Lawless

Reginald Darcy Thormond Dancer Kildare is a member of the Irish landed gentry who comes of age in the aftermath of World War II. Boyishly he keeps a diary with the front page inscribed "Herein lies the truth of The Darling Dancer's activities," activities which provide the narrative for this delightful comedy of manners. The most important lessons Darcy Dancer learns as he enters young manhood are about women and about money, the central mysteries of adulthood. He also develops a richer appreciation of the social and political workings of the modern world as he confronts basic institutions like school and church and basic problems like eating and sleeping. He defiantly flees the tyranny of the school and reluctantly flees the serenity of the church, working as a menial long enough to agree with Mae West that between rich and poor, rich is better; but he has meanwhile learned something more profound than that - the splendid young horseman whose social life revolved around the hunt has come to identify with the fox.

Donleavy's seventh novel affords the reader all the delights of a master working at the top of his form. No literary artist working in English today is better than J.P. Donleavy, and few merit comparison with him. This work is so superbly wrought that the merest enumeration of its virtues might mortify a PR flack. On hesitates to use superlatives in this cant-mongering age when Hollywood and Madison Avenue have turned plain hyperbole into rank understatement, yet only in superlative terms can Donleavy's artistic achievement be measured.

The new work is an important part of a significant oeuvre. The Donleavy eye for sensual detail is sharp as ever, the ear for idiomatic dialogue still perfect. The Donleavy themes - friendship, the family, loneliness - make up in importance what they lack in fashion. The chapter ending poems are as wonderful as ever. The supporting cast of Foxy Slattery, Miss von B, Mr. Arland, Crooks, Sexton, and A.S. Kelly is kith and kin to Kenneth O'Keefe, Sally Thompson [sic], Lead Kindly Light, and Mr. Mystery. It is too late to be discovering that J.P. Donleavy is a very great writer, although this new book is ample proof. It would be an interesting stunt to review a Donleavy work without mentioning "The Ginger Man" because even without that book his achievement would put him in the first rank, but it is time to realize that "The Ginger Man" did not place this artist in a sort of permanent Sophomore Slump. To state this in plain terms - the author of "The Ginger Man" has written yet another wonderful book with many of the virtues of that comic masterpiece and some interesting variations.

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