"Upon Placing the Blame for Venereal Disease...

Do this as soon as you can and admit nothing. The first person getting in their accusation stands a better chance of appearing innocent."

- J.P. Donleavy from The Unexpurgated Code

Photo by Stephen Shames
Arthur Cooper
The following article/interview first appeared in Newsweek September 15, 1975.

"Ginger Snaps"

By Arthur Cooper


"To make any statement about the Irish character, it is usually best to say it in a story," says J.P. Donleavy during a stroll around the grounds of his estate near Mullingar, Ireland, as he comments on his new book, A Singular Country (W. W. Norton & Co.), which is due out this month.

J.P. Donleavy's lecherous, rebelliously heroic, anti-heroes from Sebastian Dangerfield to Samuel S to Balthazar B, were total misfits. Their world was more banana peel than oyster. But it has been twenty years since The Ginger Man appeared, and Donleavy, now a graybeard of 49, has learned a thing or two more about the world that seems to be booby-trapped and persists in taking cheap shots. For readers consumed with angst and copelessness, this survival manual will prove as valuable as king-size vial of Valium.

A forerunner of the black humorists who came of rage in the 1960s, Donleavy is a comic who tosses cream pies with cement filling. Like Mel Brooks, he knows that bad taste is merely a joke that doesn't get a laugh. And like Mel Brooks, Donleavy's demonic humor is utterly democratic, thrusting the needle into everyone regardless of race, creed, color or ability to control one's bowels. For instance, if you survive an airplane crash and perforce must resort to cannibalism, Donleavy advises that "racial and color repugnancies...should never become criteria when asking for another helping. However having a genuine gustatory preference it should be couched in requesting white, yellow or dark meat and never for a bit of Pole, Chink or Nigger."

Much of the book's craziness results from the odd juxtaposition of Donleavy's spoofing of the high Victorian style with comedy that is broad, low and concerned mainly with bathroom and bedroom. The book is full of advice about flatulence, body stench, masturbation and similar indelicacies, the discussions of which heretofore has been confined to advertisements in subway cars. What Donleavy does with such genteel loutishness is express his own loathing for contemporary society in a parody of the classic manual of etiquette. He thus reveals himself - if it needed revealing - as the Ginger Man behind all those Ginger Men in his pungent, disaffected novels. Some of his Gingerly advice:

"Upon Placing Placing Blame For Venereal Disease: Do this as soon as you can and admit nothing. The first person getting in their accusation stands a better chance of appearing innocent."

"Upon Encountering Incivilities From Taxi Drivers: A water pistol squirted in the eye area generally will quieten him if you propellant is vinegar."

"Wife Beating: It is chivalrous to use your least favoured arm keeping your slaps firmly on the jaw...The trouble with spanking is that many wives may not, after a few samples, regard it as punishment and indeed might incite this form of chastisement."

"Upon Encountering Happiness: Be wary at such times since most of life's blows fall then."

Should those blows fall with the relentless tempo bastinado, Donleavy recommends suicide as a graceful leave-taking. He considers poison, shotgun blasts and defenestrasion déclassé, but "an elegantly embellished revolver firing straight into your heart a platinum plated bullet engraved with your armorial bearings is a stylish and dignified finishing stroke." As for the suicide note, it should contain a crisp "No comment." This is a comedy of ill manners, to be sure, but it is a very funny book.

To purchase books by J.P. Donleavy, go to the Buyers' Guide.

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