- 01 Nov 19
The Ginger Man's Last Word
Completed in 2007, Donleavy’s final novel is a more than worthy addition to his canon. It tells the story of lingerie magnate Nathan Johnson: a tale of aspiration, greed, and that most tragic of human traits, our apparent inability to be happy with what we’ve got.
Johnson would appear to have it all – success, heaps of money, an umbrella affectation, and a wife he loves. But, when the model/actress known only as Iowa enters his life and “fills his lungs with her magic elixir”, his mind, if not his body, starts to stray. The character of Iowa seems deliberately constructed to annoy the reader, spouting a level of bullshit that would make even Gwyneth Paltrow blush - fairy tales of New York, if you will. Alas, Nathan can’t see through it, in bondage, as we all are, to the raging madman of his libido, as Sophocles once so accurately put it. He gives her a job, then doubles her salary, and even starts lifting weights in the hopes of impressing her. The big eejit is hopelessly trapped in “the dilemma of love into which he had unawares fallen.”
Iowa isn’t his only problem, the manager of one of his biggest outlets comes to a bad end, foreshadowing business troubles, but Nathan doesn’t hesitate. Combining his incessant social climbing – our man fancies himself as a lord of the manor – with some unconscious guilt, Nathan puts a lot of shekels down on a ridiculously over the top country estate called Blueberry Hill as a birthday gift for the wife, complete with a butler to make him feel better about himself. This proves to be a money pit, not least because his in-laws arrive and proceed to try and eat him out of house and home in a manner similar to the visitation imposed on Clayton Claw Cleaver Clementine in Charnel Castle in Donleavy’s The Onion Eaters.
When, from an unlikely direction, Johnson’s inevitable fall comes, despite his pride in being a gentleman - that naturally came before it - he really only has himself to blame, for “the great city of New York has a parable for you around every corner.” I wouldn’t often find myself in agreement with Johnny Depp but when he said about this book, “we are honoured to once again enjoy and savour (Donleavy’s) savage, jocular prose and divine insights into the human condition” he hit the nail on the head. This is a fitting curtain call for J.P. Donleavy, that most singular man.