God I am an animal lover Mr. Clementine but really this is not on.
Haven't you got that dog house trained."
"Only in four rooms."
- J.P. Donleavy from The Onion Eaters
by R.Z. Sheppard.
J.P. Donleavy writes sad and lonely books. From The Ginger Man to The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, his fictional worlds seem to spin through an otherwise lifeless universe. They are closed worlds, their boundaries no more distant than the most prominent erectile tissue. Alone, without context or meaning, the flesh is all.
For some, the flesh is more all than for others. Clayton Claw Cleaver Clementine, the hero of The Onion Eaters, has three testicles. He is descended—so to speak—from a line of similarly endowed gentry, most notably Clementine of the Three Glands. But what do three testicles mean? A mystical trinity illuminating some absurd need to procreate? A symbol suggesting a metaphysic of pawnbroking? Likely as not, it is simply an animation of the familiar euphemism, "the family jewels."
In addition to this anatomical legacy, Clementine gets Charnel Castle, a moldering shambles with a bottomless wine cellar. It is a timeless madhouse, swarming with unpaid servants and port-guzzling visitors. Its bedrooms are equipped with convenient women of various shapes and attributes. Rose, for instance, has webbed feet.
It is almost as if Beckett and Pinter put on Hellzapoppin. Everything and nothing seem to happen, yet a considerable amount of atmosphere is conveyed. The dialogue is arch and flat, absurd and witty. Descriptions are precise and at times chastely beautiful. The scatology is consistently outrageous. Yet it is through Clementine's numerous fornications that The Onion Eaters generates its odd life. The book does not have much meaning, only an animal warmth, at once grotesque and touching. Donleavy seems to be saying that this warmth is the only thing about which we can be certain. "To make the stars bark" is his sole justification for the antics at Charnel Castle. Molecules of cooling human scent spreading thinner and thinner through the heavens according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics? It would seem so—in Donleavy's world at least, where man is the ultimate agent of disorder.
purchase books by J.P. Donleavy, go to
the Buyers' Guide.