Our former comments in
this heading will suffice.
|Photo by Godfrey Argent|
We can do without your crass attempt at jocularity. We inform you that our
appointees have been instructed to institute moves. In the light of the
seriousness of the situation and in case you are under any illusion we inform
you that we are in the possession of two eyes each.
- J.P. Donleavy from A Singular Man
|The following article/review first appeared in the November 11, 1963 issue of Newsweek.|
There is a certain trembling in the air at the publication of "A Singular Man." It follows by five years the appearance in this country of J.P. Donleavy's first novel, "The Ginger Man," a bawdy comic masterpiece of such intense originality that it shook loose from his sensibilities anyone who approached it head-on. It spoke a language that had never been spoken before, and it filled the room with strong odors; it was a book to be circled and tested and courted carefully before the final apocalyptic embrace.
"A Singular Man" requires a similar caution. Though excruciatingly funny, it is a darker novel than its predecessor, in tone and in lucidity, and it has less of the mad buoyancy that sent Sebastian Dangerfield winging among the chandeliers. If the earlier book was a manic hymn of freedom, this one is a threnody of indefinable sorrows and terrors. Yet it is perilously easy to pick up "A Singular Man" and feel a real stab of déjà vu, as if "The Ginger Man" were being trotted out again with only the names changed to protect the author.
The haunt emerges from Donleavy's style. His prose is his own invention, a chopped-up rope of independent phrases, clauses, and word clusters surrounding an apparently endless supply of present participles. One assumed that it was invented for Sebastian Dangerfield alone, and that Donleavy would never attempt to revive it. He does attempt it, though, and it is no easy matter not to keep looking for Dangerfield in passages like this: Smith viewing the way ahead. Then stealing a glance at Miss Martin who was all eyes cast down. Whispering in Smith's heart were little words, nearer my God to thee, and please, never force me to wear shoes of grasshopper skin. For leaping high out of all the terrible traps set everywhere these days."
Verbal Seduction: More unnerving even that the stylistic echo is the simple repetition of devices. One of the most hilarious effects of "The Ginger Man" came from Sebastian's compulsive use of last names: Miss Frost remained Miss Frost through one of the longest verbal seductions in literature. Here Miss Martin and Miss Tomson are surnamed through two long seductions and the gag is scraped to the bone.
Nevertheless, "A Singular Man" is almost always a singular and original novel, and the echo from the earlier novel should not be permitted to drown out the fresh chords being struck here. George Smith is as representative a modern man as Sebastian was heretical. Smith is the obverse of the Dangerfield who lost the whole world but never his own bellowing soul. Smith lives in lonely, surrealistic opulence, warding off a thousand unnamable threats as he sneaks along toward his heart's desire: the completion for his own use of the largest mausoleum in history. Dangerfield was his own man, but Smith is most men, and Donleavy never loses sight of the difference.
To purchase books by J.P. Donleavy, go to the Buyers' Guide.
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