Issue 116, Fall 1990
I first met J.P. Donleavy in July, 1961 at a garden party in London on what was believed to be the hottest day on record. The party was given on my behalf as Director of the Atlantic Monthly Press to meet leading British publishers, writers, and literary agents.
I had asked my hostess to invite J.P. Donleavy whom I had never met, although we had corresponded for over a year about his novel in progress. Fairy Tales of New York. I didn’t think he would turn up, since he was known to be a recluse who avoided literary parties; nor did some of my publishing friends who told me in emphatic terms that Donleavy did not like or trust publishers. About an hour after the party was in progress, the garden crowded with London literati, a solitary figure suddenly appeared at the top of the stone steps, slim, bearded, and wearing a Brooks Brothers seersucker suit (which only Americans wore at the time). It was Donleavy, accompanied by a statuesque young lady with flowing blond hair. A number of publishers stopped what they were doing and made a bee-line to shake Donleavy’s hand and introduce themselves. He told me later that among them were several who had rejected The Ginger Man with curt one-line replies or standard printed forms. I stayed a few more minutes, in deference to my hostess, then invited Donleavy and his companion to dinner at the Connaught. She had another engagement but Donleavy was pleased to accept. He told me that he frequently went to the Connaught bar in the late afternoon for a glass of champagne, to lift his spirits and because of its vitamins (which he pronounced “vitamins”). After two glasses of vitamins we went into dinner. The Connaught menu is one of the finest in all of England, and the wine list is equally impressive. Donleavy chose steak tartare and I ordered roast duck. I asked him to select the wine and he chose a ’57 Chambertin. It was an animated dinner during the course of which he asked me many questions, professional and some quite personal: what my wife was like, what my house on Beacon Hill was like, whether my children had a nanny, where I had gone to college, where did I “take lunch” in Boston, etc. He seemed to be very familiar with Boston, especially Beacon Hill, Charles Street, the Public Gardens and the West End of Boston where a good part of The Ginger Man had been written.