"The Ginger Man is the picaresque novel to stop them all. Lusty, violent, wildly funny, it is a rigadoon of rascality, a bawled-out comic song of sex."

- Dorothy Parker, Esquire

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by Bill Dunn

Among those attending were novelist John Banville, painter Robert Ballagh, Ronan Wilmot, who directed the 1999-2000 theatrical productions of The Ginger Man in Dublin and New York, novelist Rosita Sweetman and singer and songwriter Cait O’Riordan, who has played bass guitar with the Shane MacGowan and Pogues and later with Elvis Costello. People came from throughout Ireland, Northern Ireland, England and the United States to be there for the literary event of the season, if not the year.

Sum of Its Parts

With the novel as the centerpiece, the volume includes Johnny Depp’s foreword (“there is nothing quite like The Ginger Man: an uproarious, pioneering masterpiece”), an informative introduction by novelist Sean O’Reilly, facsimiles of insightful letters exchanged between the author and Irish scholar and critic Arland Ussher who wrote the introduction to the 1956 British edition praising the work as serious literature. That hardcover trade edition, from mainstream publisher Neville Spearman Ltd., which did get the book reviewed and into leading bookstores, followed the novel's 1955 publication by The Olympia Press, Paris, in its Traveler's Companion Series.

The Sixtieth Anniversary Edition also contains an 8,000-word essay by this correspondent, a bibliographic exploration titled “Around the World in Sixty Years: Paris to Shanghai & Points Between / The Publishing Odyssey of The Ginger Man”. The volume is richly illustrated with photos from the late 1940s and the 1950s of Donleavy and such influential people as Gainor Steven Crist (in part the inspiration for Sebastian Dangerfield), Arthur Kenneth Donoghue (model for Kenneth O’Keefe), Tony McInerney (Tony Malarkey) and Brendan Behan (Barney Berry).

In an afterword, “Meeting Donleavy: A Picnic in Westmeath”, film producer Bob Mitchell recalls how he met the author and became his friend. Mitchell reveals the unseen, private Donleavy who was both supportive and encouraging during Mitchell’s recovery from a serious accident. Mitchell and Philip Donleavy, the author’s son, hold the film rights to The Ginger Man, which Johnny Depp is keen to produce.

The much anticipated publication by Dublin’s The Lilliput Press of The Sixtieth Anniversary Edition of The Ginger Man, at which author J.P. Donleavy and his masterwork were celebrated, drew upwards of 400 fans and friends to the official launch party July 17, 2015, appropriately held at Trinity College Dublin.

“Welcome to this wonderful gathering to honor a wonderful book, The Ginger Man,” said The Lilliput Press publisher Antony Farrell, greeting the assembled at the start of the formal program. “Lilliput takes huge pride in presenting it to you and the world on the 60th anniversary of its original publication in July 1955, now in a handsome livery with added enhancements from the Donleavy archive.”

Photo by Bill Dunn
The venue was carefully chosen, the old college cricket club, now The Pavilion Bar, overlooking the cricket field, not far from No. 38 New Square, where Donleavy had rooms as a TCD undergraduate 1946-49, attending on the G.I. Bill of Rights. It was at Trinity and in bohemian Dublin beyond the college gates that Donleavy encountered and befriended colorful people who would inspire characters in
the novel.
Photo courtesy of Dublin University Central Athletic Club
Nearby are surviving landmarks where the story’s chaotic adventures of Sebastian Dangerfield unfold in the pubs and cafes by Grafton Street, on the quays and Cuffe Street, down into the townhouse cellar then known as the Catacombs where the partying was non-stop. People filled the three rooms of The Pav and spilled out the front door onto the spacious deck, with its picnic tables and benches. The popular spot was festooned for the evening with Sixtieth Anniversary Edition posters and balloons throughout. Donleavy, 89, his trademark beard now white, arrived promptly at 5 p.m., first to be interviewed by the Irish network UTV. He was wearing a handsome windowpane green plaid jacket, blue-and-white striped shirt, an ascot about the neck and tucked into his open shirt, and a tweed checked cap on his head. (You can view the interview by reporter Kevin Purcell here: Interview.)
Interview complete, Donleavy then came into the main room upstairs, his presence setting off a buzz. As he walked the length of the room, he exchanged greetings with people, then took a seat at the head of a long table stacked with copies of the book. A long line formed quickly, but moved. The mood was upbeat and festive. People purchased their copies from Lilliput staffers, and then moved to the head of the table, where the author signed each copy presented to him. Several people bought multiple copies. Donleavy spent almost an hour signing books.
Photos by Bill Dunn

The Ginger Man was long banned in Ireland. After some 25 years, the ban was finally lifted at the end of 1981, allowing the sale of editions published abroad, e.g., the Penguin paperback. In 2005, The Irish Independent newspaper made available to its readers for a limited time a promotional edition of The Ginger Man as part of its Great Irish Writers series.

The Ginger Man from The Lilliput Press, however, is the first time the classic novel, set in Dublin, has been published by an Irish book publisher and available to all readers at leading bookstores and independent bookshops throughout Ireland. Hodges Figgis, Ireland’s biggest bookstore, has devoted an entire display window at its Dawson Street shop to The Sixtieth Anniversary Edition . The two volumes are also available directly from the publisher’s website. Also available from Tthe Lilliput Press are cotton Sixtieth Anniversary Edition
t-shirts at €15 each.

After discovering and editing the first draft of what would become The Ginger Man, Brendan Behan offered encouragement to his friend, saying: “This book of yours is going to go around the world and beat the bejaysus out of the Bible.” Behan got the first half right. Later this year, The Ginger Man will be published in Mandarin by the Shanghai Translation Publishing House for the readers of China. The novel has been translated into some two dozen languages. Total sales are estimated to be approaching 50 million copies wordwide.

Photos courtesy The Lilliput Press
Photo courtesy The Lilliput Press
Photo by Noel Shine
Photo by Bill Dunn

Home to Ireland

After an informal first hour, Antony Farrell took to the podium in the end-room adjoining the long front room where the book signing had concluded. J.P. sat in a leather chair at the front of the room beside the podium, looking out on his many well-wishers.

“It’s a great privilege,” said Farrell, “to enable this edition of this master work, to bring it home to Ireland, and to Dublin, and now to Trinity where Sebastian Dangerfield has been an invisible presence for so many generations of students.

“We are equally honored in having one of Lilliput’s other great authors speak for the book, to pass the torch to writers from his generation. Like The Ginger Man, Donal Ryan’s first novel was rejected some 50 times before it found a home.” Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, first published by Lilliput in 2012 when he was 35, has already been translated into a dozen languages. Like Donleavy, Ryan attended Trinity.

Photo by Bill Dunn
The Lilliput Press's The Ginger Man

The Lilliput Press offers readers two editions of The Ginger Man. The hardcover, trade edition, offered at €25, is covered in a handsome dustjacket with an evocative black-and-white photograph of a narrow, worn Victorian staircase, bathed in bright light at the top, but leading down to shadows and darkness. The Catacombs, perhaps? The photo is from a dramatic collection of Dublin photos taken 1952-53 by Nevill Johnson, the British-born Irish painter and photographer. There is a deluxe, finely bound hardcover, collector’s edition signed on the title page by the author, at €200 each, limited to 200 copies, each numbered and coming in a cloth over boards slipcase.
Photo by Bill Dunn

“It’s such an incredible honor to be here,” Ryan began. He recalled his parents banned the book from their home, finding Sebastian Dangerfield “just too bold”. Nevertheless, Donal managed to get his hands on a copy. “I was 16 when I first read it and I learned lots of things.” ‘What are you doing in your room, Donal?’ ‘I’m reading literature.’ ”

“I fully thought that someday I would like Sebastian Dangerfield rampage through Trinity College and the streets of Dublin and life.” Instead, he studied engineering and for many years worked as a civil servant before finally getting his first novel published. Ryan’s second novel will be published in September.

“My reading of J.P. Donleavy’s beautiful, dark, hilarious book had given me a greater understanding of the power that can be unleashed through certain arrangements of the letters of the alphabet,” said Ryan.

The Ginger Man never seems to leave his readers, it never fades to an impression as works of art sometimes can. Its echo increases in volume with time and is heard across this world of words in which we live. It has never been out of print and I doubt it ever will be. Thanks to Antony Farrell and The Lillput Press for giving us this beautiful edition and thanks to J.P. Donleavy for giving us this book of unnatural magnificence.”

Farrell next introduced sculptress Serena Brabazon, who had created the bust of Donleavy, which was displayed on a pedestal. Donleavy sat for Ms. Brabazon a dozen or more times at his home, Levington Park, in the Irish midlands. Completed in clay, the bust now awaits bronzing.

Photo by Bill Dunn