Begun usually by estranged couples, once this victual flinging starts, everyone will do it...Should your dinner party have become an out of control concussion match with opponents catapulting croutons and petits pois across the mahogany, don't fight it, go with it. And when you have the desire to quell the uprising approach the original perpetrator from behind. There, slowly crown her with the contents of the fresh fruit salad bowl. But be warned. Although this immobilizes and rivets everyone’s attention it also gives them new ideas."
- J.P. Donleavy from The Unexpurgated Code
by Melvin Maddocks
The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival and Manners - by J.P. Donleavy
If the many readers of The Ginger Man, James Patrick Donleavy's first and best novel, can somehow imagine its savagely baleful young anti-hero Sebastian Dangerfield being resurrected a quarter of a century afterward and sitting down to compose an advice book for late 20th century man, they should have a rough idea of The Unexpurgated Code. It might well be subtitled I'm Not O.K., You're Not O.K. A collection of bilious and often funny rules for living, the book qualifies as philosophy according to Donleavy's own definition: thoughts generated while confronting "wind, flood, volcanoes, earthquake, fire and lightning and the people who wouldn't be human if they weren't out to get you."
There is a touch of the 19th century dandy about Donleavy, born 49 years ago in New York City and now living in a large Georgian house on a 180-acre cattle farm in Ireland. There is more than a touch of stately grandiloquence to the Donleavy prose, with its Latinate preferences and its "My-dear-sir!" bursts of lace-cuff-shooting mock elegance. But what the cadenced prose does is to set up the reader for the moment when Donleavy belches out his violent, scurrilous message: life, taken all in all, is obscene—the ultimate four-letter word.
First, Donleavy asks, consider the body. Putrefaction, man's constant companion, is treated under the general heading "Vilenesses Various," including paragraphs on "Bad Breath and Toothpicks," "Plate and Knife Licking" and "Discarded Hairs and Nails." But the putrefaction of the soul is of course infinitely worse. Holding his nose against the spiritual stench, Donleavy writes maxims on social climbing, marrying for money and the fine art of suing: "If you can spot a lawyer's letter without opening it and can return it marked deceased, this is a trump card. If you cannot suppress your desire to reply, then state, 'Dear Sir, Only for the moment I am saying nothing.' "
Donleavy's total wisdom on the subject "How to Prevent People from Detesting You" comes down to two words: "Don't try." For with all one's dreadful odors (physical and moral), one certainly is detestable. What, then, is left? Your duty, your honor rest upon keeping even more detestable people from thriving, especially at your expense. Dealt with most specifically, these scoundrels number accountants who steal your money, doctors who remove your healthier organs, the snobs above you who black ball you from their clubs, the "bootless and unhorsed" below you whom you would surely blackball from your club if only you could belong, and almost all relatives.
But between the lines, Donleavy's diatribes manage to say more. In passing fancies he sees visions of grace, chivalry and order. Lords sit in their castles while peasants roam the meadow (with a moat between them). Butlers who know their place well serve perfectly prepared drinks to deserving pukka-sahib colonels. At such tenderly sardonic moments, Donleavy seems to reveal himself as an inverted romantic, profoundly sad beneath his disguise because he and the world are no better than they happen to be.
Is there no hope? Having taken the reader from the cradle, Donleavy looks forward in a mini-essay on "Dying" to what comes after the grave. Alas, more of the same. As he imagines a rude, rude walk through "about twenty millenniums," Donleavy suggests: "This could be, for those of you who were expecting an afterlife of courtesy, equality and contentment, a good time to break down and cry." Or bare your teeth, throw back your head and laugh like the old Ginger Man.
purchase books by J.P. Donleavy, go to
the Buyers' Guide.