A Fairy Tale of New York

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By: J.P. Donleavy

Publication Date: 1994

(2 customer reviews)


A Fairy Tale of New York is a funny, lusty, and sad novel of comic genius. Returning from study abroad, Cornelius Christian enters customs with his luggage and his dead wife. His first encounter in New York is with a funeral director, with whom he reluctantly takes employment to pay for the burial expenses. In the course of his duties he meets the beautiful Fanny Sourpuss over her millionaire husband’s dead body. However, his over-enthusiastic handling of his first corpse lands him in court. Cornelius Christian wanders through the great sad cathedral that is New York, examining the human condition in all its comic pathos and lonely absurdity. Whether lingering in the Automat drinking from half empty coffee cups and stealing baked beans from the plates of customers who go looking for ketchup, or finding love on a street corner only to end up fighting his way out of a hooker’s fists, Cornelius Christian, heroic anti-hero, sings of life’s goodness in the wake of disaster.

A Fairy Tale of New York is the novel whose title inspired the Pogues’ song, cited as ‘the best Christmas song ever.’

‘Outrageous … electrically alive … Donleavy’s best book to date.’ – The Washington Post

‘A worthy successor to Sebastion Dangerfield of The Ginger Man … in a ribald elegy for New York.’ – Kansas City Star

‘J.P. Donleavy’s new hero is an outrageous, obscene, unprincipled, irresistible and very poignant scoundrel who boozes and brawls his bawdy way through the disaster that is New York City … Donleavy deftly skewers everything from the American way of life and death to sex and city life, failure, success, poverty and wealth, loneliness and love … ribald and very funny entertainment … a fine roller-coaster ride all the way!’ – Philadelphia Bulletin

‘A grand triumph … a noble book from one of our best writers!’ – Cleveland Plain Dealer


J.P. ‘Mike’ Donleavy (1926–2017) wrote more than twenty books after The Ginger Man, including The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B (1968), A Fairy Tale of New York (1973), The Onion Eaters (1971) and Schultz (1979) (all available as eBooks from Lilliput), along with several works of non-fiction such as The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival and Manners (1975). He lived along the shores of Lough Owel near Mullingar in County Westmeath. Watch J.P. Donleavy win the An Post Lifetime Achievement Award 2015.

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2 reviews for A Fairy Tale of New York

  1. Lilliput Press

    “I recently purchased this book as a present. It is many years since I read it but I can say it is one of JP Donleavy’s best. Written in typical style it hilariously tells the story of one Cornelius Christian, newly arrived in New York and who takes a job in a funeral parlour.
    Later in his career I hunk JPD began to parody himself a bit but here he’s in all his glory.” DR J CRAWFORD

  2. Lilliput Press

    “In my opinion ‘A Fairy Tale of New York’ and ‘The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B’ are Donleavy’s finest novels – ‘The Ginger Man’ comes nowhere close. The Fairy Tale is full of humour, pathos, sadness and anarchy. Donleavy has his own unique lyrical style mixing first and third person, past and present tense – it shouldn’t work but it does. Set in an undertakers, a rooming house, seedy bars, dreary offices and his lovers penthouse, we follow Christian in his struggle to survive in a New York he both loves and hates – a restless spirit plagued by his past and fighting, sometimes literally, to keep his own identity. Ultimately it is a story of both the spirit and the frailty of man. But don’t expect a neat rounded ending from Donleavy as this is a slice of life.
    I first read this book about forty years ago and have come back to it about every five years ever since – it is a classic. Read it!” MR MART

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