triumphs over love, beasts
over man, chaos over reason, and for
the moment life over death
More crazy than cruel
One of us now
Will spin like a top
On the end
Of his tool"
- J.P. Donleavy from The Onion Eaters
THE ONION EATERS, By J.P. Donleavy. New York: Delacorte Press, 306 pages. $7.95.
By VIRGIL CHRISTIANSON
Since "The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B" in late 1968, there has been a wait of nearly three years. But alliteration has again given birth. In Donleavy terms, a day of delight does dawn.
To the population of the weird little Donleavy world, which was created some 20 years ago with the publication of "The Ginger Man," is now added one Clayton Claw Cleaver Clementine.
Clementine has strong family resemblances. Like Balthazar B and the George Smith of "A Singular Man," he's got money or at least the air of it. In Clementine's case, it's just the perfume. He's given a castle by an aunt who's tired of it, but he finds that's about like having a white elephant delivered to his door, altogether out of place in a world of "jumping generations." He's worth unlimited credit since Clementine is a name in this part of Ireland, but he knows he'll be scratching - fishing for dinner from the family yacht - before the year's out.
HE IS PUSHED farther toward poverty with the arrival of a tall, thin young physicist, golden-tongued Erconwald ("my kind person") and his parasitic friends. They include fellow physicist Franze Decibel Pickle, who eventually mines for minerals in the great hall; botanist George Putlog Roulette, and the husky Rose, a female baritone, loudly dressed, brassy lipped and lascivious.
There results, with the endless appearance of other uninvited guests, the inevitable, most of it slapstick rendered in alliterative rhyme. Meals fit for coronations are consumed with lusty contributions from the wine cellar. Women fight, hands locked in hair. The wine cellar nears but never quite reaches bankruptcy. The ample Rose pins Clementine for her pleasure while the sea crashes outside and great winds lash the pre-Christian ramparts.
"The Onion Eaters" brings to a crescendo the chaos only hinted in the earlier books. Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield did some bumping around in "The Ginger Man," the toilet once splashing from the floor above onto the head of his righteous wife, but never managed to produce the din which hammers forth from the latest book. "A Singular Man" was but a foreword to this new encyclopedia of antic sex (much of it repetitious and pointless).
UNCHANGED IS the fragmentation of sentences, which are broken into their colorful bits for more than 300 pages, making for slow reading and taunting English teachers. Like this: "Clementine heading down the stairs two at a time into the street. Head chilled hair wet. Cycles massing down the roads. A beep beep of an automobile."
It's doubtful that Donleavy is one of America's greatest living writers, as has been claimed from such prestigious quarters as "The New Yorker." For one thing, he's hardly an American, having lived in Europe for years. Further, he's profound only in passing. Twenty years from now, only "The Ginger Man" will be read, if that. But Donleavy does retrieve some charm from human sweat and desperation, and that's a lot.
(Mr. Christianson is on the staff of The Atlanta Journal)