The Ginger Man

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A thorough rogue, Sebastian tries to justify his unjustifiable behavior. Devoid of any conventional morality, he evolves an infinitely flexible code of conduct.

Sebastian lives with his English wife and infant daughter while supposedly studying law at Trinity on the G. I. Bill. Barging from one Dublin neighborhood to another, he leaves unpaid bills, damaged property, and broken hearts in his wake. He steals a mistress’ belongings, slugs his wife, and tries to suffocate his screaming child with a pillow.

Donleavy’s goal is to shock the reader’s moral complacency. Donleavy knows that Sebastian’s outrageous acts are wrong but does not try to explain them away, leaving the reader to deal with them.

Self-pitying to an extreme, Sebastian sees himself as persecuted without realizing that he creates all his problems. Yet he is an attractive character in spite of himself because of the ironic, self-mocking way he is presented, the comic energy which invigorates his adventures, and his refusal to give in to the forces of conformity.

The novel is inspired by the fable of the Gingerbread Man, who escapes all his pursuers only to be eaten by a fox that he foolishly trusts. Sebastian is unwillingly to commit himself irrevocably to anyone or anything for fear of being devoured, and he flees from those who want something from him.

This plotless novel rambles from episode to episode with only Sebastian’s bawdy...

(The entire section is 516 words.)