Friday, January 3, 2014

THE GINGER MAN: Solicitous Content vs Writing Mechanics

Here's Amazon description of J.P.Donleavy's The Ginger Man - 

First published in Paris in 1955, and originally banned in the United States, J. P. Donleavy’s first novel is now recognized the world over as a masterpiece and a modern classic of the highest order. Set in Ireland just after World War II, The Ginger Man is J. P. Donleavy’s wildly funny, picaresque classic novel of the misadventures of Sebastian Dangerfield, a young American ne’er-do-well studying at Trinity College in Dublin. He barely has time for his studies and avoids bill collectors, makes love to almost anything in a skirt, and tries to survive without having to descend into the bottomless pit of steady work. Dangerfield’s appetite for women, liquor, and general roguishness is insatiable—and he satisfies it with endless charm.

Despite the fact that the novel was named one of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library in 1998, has sold over 40 million copies, and that Johnny Depp has been trying to adapt the novel into a film, I can understand why a number of reviewers on Amazon weren't able to finish the novel. 

J.P. Donleavy changes narrative mode mid-paragraph from first-person to third-person - from one sentence to the next. There are conversations without quotation marks in the middle of paragraphs. And if you aren't focused a joke or sexual innuendo will pass you like a bicycle messenger in mid-town Manhattan.

The Nation hailed The Ginger Man "A comic masterpiece." However, if this book were written in your typical creative writing workshop or mailed to an editor or agent, it probably would be marked repeatedly with a red pen for errors and rejected. 

Due to the unconventional writing style, sexual content (e.g., anal sex), and the protagonist's adventures in a foreign land, the book reminded me of Henry Miller's writing style and of Tropic of Cancer, which argues the point that books like Tropic of CancerThe Ginger Man and even 50 Shades of Grey wouldn't be as popular as they are if it weren't for the controversial content. Thus, for the common reader, a compelling story can often be more important than "proper" writing mechanics. 

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