This month, JP Donleavy’s picaresque classic The Ginger Man turns 60! Since its first publication in 1955 over 40 million copies of the novel have been sold and to celebrate this milestone, The Lilliput Press have issued a new hardback edition with a foreward by none other than Johnny Depp, who has been a longtime fan of the book.
The story follows the social and sexual adventures of a footloose American student on the streets and the pubs of Dublin in the early 1950s. Based on Donleavy’s own experiences when he came from America to Trinity College Dublin in 1946 to study Natural Sciences, the book follows Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield as he drinks, fornicates and blazes his way through college life, avoiding work and responsibility of any kind. It is bawdy, witty and farcical and without doubt is one of the great comic novels of all time.
Johnny Depp isn’t the only famous fan of the book. The wonderful Dorothy Parker declared it to be
stunning…brilliant…the picaresque novel to stop them all. Lusty, violent and wildly funny, it is a rigadoon of rascality, a bawled-out comic song of sex
Brendan Behan declared that the book would
Go around the world, and beat the bejaysus out of the Bible
But he had a vested interest in Donleavy’s masterpiece. In a story that is now legendary, Behan broke into Donleavy’s cottage while he was away and found a copy of the yet unpublished manuscript and decided, as you would, that it could do with some changes and amendments! Donleavy was less than pleased, but has since admitted that he did keep one or two of Behan’s suggestions and even based the character of Barney Berry on his larger than life friend.
The book’s journey to classic status didn’t have the easiest of starts and due to the subject matter, Donleavy found it hard to get The Ginger Man published. It was initially banned by the Censorship Board in Ireland and was only published in the UK and US in expurgated form. A stage adaptation written by Donleavy in 1955 and starring Richard Harris only lasted three performances in Dublin before it was closed following protests by the Catholic Church and poor critical reaction.
All has changed now and it has been said that The Ginger Man has brought more American tourists to Dublin’s Trinity College than the Book of Kells.
A movie adaptation by Johnny Depp would certainly give the book another new lease of life but the struggle to screen as been a long one. Depp has been interested in the book for over 10 years.
In 2005 it was planned that Depp would star in the movie alongside his musical buddy Shane McGowan, but the Pirates of the Caribbean juggernaut put a hold on those plans. Depp and Donleavy met again in 2009, but the project still languished, however meetings have been taking place in the last few years between the two, with the inclusion of Cillian Murphy and it looks like it could be tantalisingly close.
At 89, it would be nice for Donleavy to finally see the movie come to life. He lives in relative seclusion in his Georgian pile outside Mullingar in County Westmeath and continues to write and paint. Since The Ginger Man he has written more than twenty books including The Onion Eaters and A Fairy Tale of New York although it has been close to 20 years since he last published anything.
If you have a spare €200, you could do worse than buying The Lilliput Press signed limited editions of The Ginger Man. As well as the original text and Depp’s foreward, it includes letters of Donleavy’s; archival photographs of TCD in the 1950s; an illustrated essay by Bill Dunn on the censorship storm around the initial publication and pages from the original manuscript.