The Ginger Man Letters
Correspondence by J.P Donleavy, Gainor Crist, A.K Donoghue
By: Bill Dunn
The Ginger Man Letters presents the riveting backstory of the novel, set in post-war bohemian Dublin, through the correspondence of Donleavy and his Trinity College chums Gainor Steven Crist and Arthur Kenneth Donoghue, who inspired the main characters, Sebastian Dangerfield and Kenneth O’Keefe.
These extraordinary letters cast new light on the composition, publication and afterlife of The Ginger Man, as well as the fate of its protagonists. Two hundred and twenty letters, selected from over six hundred in the Donleavy archive, create a compelling narrative told in three distinct voices that itself reads like Donleavy fiction: hilarious, reflective and brawling by turn, always revealing of these colourful individuals.
As well as Behan, the characters who surface in the letters include major players such as Patrick Kavanagh and John Ryan; Trinity pal George Roy Hill, who went on to direct Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Maurice Girodias of the Olympia Press in Paris who fought a decades-long legal battle with the author; Seymour Lawrence who published Donleavy’s second novel and lost his job because of it. Walk-on parts include actors Richard Harris and Susannah York, film director John Huston, pop star Mick Jagger, and movie mogul Sam Spiegel who hosted Donleavy aboard his 177-foot yacht. Donleavy’s struggles to sell his paintings and to get his books published and his plays staged, while under attack from critics, the government and Church censors, are all vividly documented.
The book is illustrated with period photographs, many published for the first time. Complementing the letters is an afterword by Gainor Crist’s daughter, Mariana, who recalls her father in loving detail.
The Ginger Man Letters, in effect Donleavy’s twenty-seventh book, encapsulates an era and is an essential addition to the Donleavy canon.
Bill Dunn has written extensively about publishing, authors and book collecting with articles appearing in The New York Times, The Irish Times, Detroit News, A.B. Bookman’s Weekly and Publishers Weekly. He is the archivist of J.P. Donleavy’s papers and the author of six books, and is currently the historian at Sea Girt Lighthouse, Sea Girt, New Jersey.