A Singular Man – J.P. Donleavy (1964)


Renata Adler – The New Yorker, May 16, 1964 – “There is more to writing realistic dialogue that a good ear and a sound memory, and spontaneous conversation as recorded by tape or stenography will seldom sound authentic on the stage or in a novel. (Even in newspapers, in which quoting out of context can create on kind of distortion, quoting context may create another.) To convey the spoken word accurately in part, a novelist must paraphrase. For a time, the dialogue in fiction was more ‘literary’ than the speech of fact. Stammerers or the inarticulate appeared less as real characters than as examples of something – paragons or caricatures of simple virtue; most characters in the novel expressed themselves more cognently and gracefully than speakers in the street. In recent years, however, the reverse has become true, and a twentieth-century novelist, trying to transcribe real conversation, may limit his dialogue to expletives, monosyllables, clichés, or even grunts. If the distortion factor for speech in novels of the past was eloquence, the new distortion factor is aphasia. In both his novels, first The Ginger Man and now A Singular Man (Atlantic-Little, Brown), J.P. Donleavy resists a modern convention of fattened dialogue and coarsened sensibility as earmarks of realism. His characters are not Neanderthals in Yale or Greenwich Village clothing, and they express themselves with a certain rococo elegance. The hero of  The Ginger Man behaved rudely enough, but in all his (often tedious) brawling, drinking, and philandering, he had, somehow, the air of the false primitive, and as a commentator on his own behavior he was flamboyant and amusing. Sebastian Dangerfield was a post-adolescent ne’er-do-well trying to take the world by physical storm; George Smith, the hero of A Singular Man, is completely at the mercy of the world, and he is mild, eccentric, poetic, never dull, and often funny. In all his strangeness, he bears a resemblance to many characters actually at large, and A Singular Man is an attempt to see how much of the eccentric part of life – the whims and lyric flights and capers, no less real for seeming literary – a modern novel can accommodate. …”
Renata Adler Review
W – A Singular Man
Hunter S. Thompson’s review of A Singular ManThe National Observer, November 11, 1963
NY Times: A Toast for J. P. Donleavy
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