A Singular Man

A Singular Man

by J. P. Donleavy


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What will happen to George Smith? Mysteriously rich and desperately lonely, George appears to be under attack from all quarters: his former wife and four horrible children are suing to get his money; his dipsomaniacal housekeeper is trying to arouse his carnal interest; his secretary, the beautiful, blond Miss Thomson, will barely give him the time of day. Making matters even worse are the threatening letters: Dear Sir: Only for the moment are we saying nothing. Yours, etc., Present Associates.

Despite such precautions as a two-inch-thick surgical steel door and a bullet-proof limousine, Smith remains worried. So he undertakes to build a giant mausoleum, complete with plumbing, in which to live. Hunter S. Thompson called reading this book “like sitting down to an evening of good whisky and mad laughter in a rare conversation somewhere on the edge of reality.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780871132659
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 01/14/1994
Series: Donleavy, J. P.
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 291,811
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt


MY name is George Smith. I get up on the right side of the bed every morning because I pushed the left to the wall. I'm in business. I sleep naked between the sheets. And these days always alone unless for accidental encounters.

Barefoot in the bathroom. Standing on the warm tiles where I had the management hire an artist to make a mosaic of a turkey cock with its feathers out. Trampling this in the early morning has always made me feel un-sneaky. I shave shower and dress. Use talc on my private particulars, not wanting to get it into my lungs. Where it gives a funny taste to the first morning smoke.

Matilda brings breakfast. Waddling in bubbling with her hefty good natured muscle. I hired her on the street when I dropped a paper bag with two bulbs of garlic. She came after me with it, refused reward and I asked her would she take a job. She ladles out the scrambled egg.

Looking the mail over. Shivering somewhat. This month of sleet with icicles hanging from the window sills. Take the skewer to the envelope and nip the silver point under the flap, dig through the fold and slice.

Box 0006 The Building December 13th You well know which year.

George Smith Esq. Flat 14 Merry Mansions 2 Eagle Street

Dear Sir,

Only for the moment are we saying nothing.

Yours etc, Present Associates

Lingering over coffee to think. Ha ha. Detach this first tremor of amusing fear. Only shot through rapier like the alimentary tube, merely lurking where Smith hopes things come out all right in the end. Do not relish being accosted with knowing the year. Nine fifteen this Friday morning on the east side of town.


GEORGE Smith's slouched figure appeared out from under the orange canopy of number Two Eagle Street. Hugo the doorman nodded. Sun out. The morning crisp with hardy sparrows chirping on this eleventh day till Christmas.

Stocky tugs dragging dark barges hoot hoot on the river. Bows aflood with yellow water dripping from the twine. In the park hard grey branches on winter trees. And kiddies with such young mommies, playing in the sand.

Smith darkly dressed and stately walking down the avenue talking to himself without moving the lips. Saying things like, show people you're in command of the situation by not saying much, don't let them get in close, keep everyone at arm's length, stop smiling kindly.

Last night at Two Eagle Street there'd been a party. Figures waltzing in as Hugo white gloved and grey uniformed ceremoniously bowed them in the glass doors. Smith had nipped up the carpeted blue stairs to the Goldminer's flat above. In the glow of a roaring fire between wilting plants George stood briefly with other guests in the subtropical apartment. A member of the party approaching in her late forties wearing a tight black dress, pearls between breasts, hair swept up in a sheen round her head and she said ten feet away pointing to Smith, I'll bet he knows a lot. Offering George her outstretched smooth hand, bracelets all up the vintage brown arm, there was a quick shake. Smith was flattered being only in the early thirties but looking older since running his own business and signing contracts. It would have been nice to ask her down to bed fifteen feet away through the ceiling.

Two miles south of Eagle Street along the river and highway past the high white walls of a hospital for humans. Further under a vast dark bridge and the Animal Medical Center, George Smith turned off the avenue of lurking doormen and down a commercial street. Left into an entrance and one flight up to a wide window overlooking the steady strange click of people and wide beetle cars bubbling by. On the corner lolly pop traffic lights tasted all day from red to green with lemon in between.

Here at number Thirty Three Golf Street George Smith rose in rage and subsided in depression. Sometimes merely tearing down the curtain as he did one afternoon having read a letter of innuendo. The person in the cigar store across the street laughing outright as he caught sight of the momentary rampant chaos. While Miss Tomson streaked in to see what the matter was. She was so new then. And Smith said, by jove a winter rascal fly of the blue bottle variety, I got it Miss Tomson, I think. As Miss Tomson nips her head in now.

"Are you all right for chewing gum, Mr. Smith."

"Yes, Miss Tomson. Are you free this evening."

"That's a Jew question Mr. Smith."

"I beg your pardon Miss Tomson."

"You should ask if I can work overtime. Or are you asking me to a nightclub."

George Smith taking his desultory fountain pen lately bought of a vending machine. Miss Tomson lifting eye brows and lids.

"I hurt your feelings, Smith."

"Not at all."

"Yes I did. God Smith. You're so vulnerable."

"Miss Tomson I'll let you know when I need the care of an institution."

"You do that."

"Can you come to my apartment with paper and pencils tonight."


The tall blondness of Miss Tomson's smiles. Her calves strong and long, often turning so airily this way and that, a blue neat vein trembling at the ankle bone. She would make a housewife in whose hands the dishes might melt. Face framed in the kitchen window looking out over the sink across the lawns, every exquisite strand of hair gold and priceless.

"What time, Mr. Smith."

"Seven. I'm leaving at four for an early workout at the club."

"How's the condition. Learn to fight yet."

"I can handle myself Miss Tomson. Would you put this letter in the file."

"Hey, this is good. They're not saying anything. Yet. Pretty good approach."

Smith watching this tall creature go out beyond the frosted glass. No muscles in her arms at all. Holding the letter and triggering off her index finger rapping it three times, she said it was a test for the quality of the paper. Her underlying nature changed daily. The first time I saw her strut into the office a little chilled and blue at the neck in a collarless black slim coat, dressed for spring. She carried a newspaper and with that finger stood in front of my desk pointing it out to me.

"Are you Mr. Smith put this ad in."


"I want the job."

"Won't you sit down."


"Well Miss —"

"Tomson. Sally Tomson."

"Miss Tomson I suppose you do all the usual things."

"I can type. And I can work. Hard, too. Even though I come from the South. I've got a brother who's a socialite. His picture gets in the paper if that's a help. I can do what you want me to do. With reservations, of course."

"Of course."

"This pay isn't bad. I'd only do this work for this pay."

"I see."

"Do you want me."

"You're the first applicant I've seen."

"Do you want me."

"Can I have some time to think it over."

"Sure, I'll go outside for a minute."

"Look Miss Tomson, before you do, would you mind just answering me one question."

"Sure, shoot."

"If I were to hire you, is the behaviour I'm seeing now the natural, everyday behaviour I can expect to get from you here in the office."

"It'll vary. But I'll be an office girl. Whatever you hire me for."

"All right, no need to go outside for a minute. You're hired. I think you're a sympathetic person."

"Don't get me wrong, I'm easy come easy go. But."

And that morning Smith regathering the voice which had been swallowed down following the guilty quiver, bringing it back up the dry throat with a clearing noise.

"Start Monday. Ten to five. I don't like to rush the day. Hour for lunch. Your desk is the one outside the door. And I'll introduce you to Miss Martin. Don't mind my asking do you, are those fingernails real."

"Yesh. I grew them that way. And by the way I better tell you now I say yes, yesh. Said it that way right from the time I began saying it. Some people get the idea I'm trying to be coy."

"O.K. Miss Tomson, it's all right with me. Look forward seeing you Monday."


So when Monday came. Miss Tomson came. But with an elk hound which she tied to the desk. I came in. Saw the animal. A man killer for sure. Miss Tomson said good morning in true secretary fashion and I simply did not have the words ready to deal with the situation. Especially the inhuman growl and lurchment of Miss Tomson's desk in my direction to which the vast creature lay tethered. I nipped back behind the frosted glass of my office for a moment's refreshment, picked up a letter which lay waiting and which put my bowels in a further state and my hand through what I thought would be soon thinning hair. Gingerly out again to say something like a foolish remark. Does it bark and what does it eat Miss Tomson. Whoosh. Clack. Those were the teeth. This animal again tried to get me. As the pleasantry failed and I made it back again behind the vulnerable glass. From where I ventured voice only.

"Miss Tomson, the dog."


"Will we be seeing it every morning."

"Do you want to. Got a cute name. Goliath. Goli for short. He's like a lion. Sorry he tried to get you. But he doesn't know you yet. Goliath say good morning to Mr. Smith, that shadow behind the glass, go on, Goli, Mr. Smith isn't going to bite you."

That Monday George Smith stood aloof and aghast. Humming. Whispering up to Jesus Christ is there no justice. As Miss Tomson sensed the sorrow of the sheepish shadow.

"Mr. Smith, you didn't think I was going to bring Goli to work with me every morning, did you."

"Miss Tomson, I have a vivid imagination, likely to believe anything."

"Well why didn't you say so Mr. Smith. Goli is just on his way to the boarding kennel. Didn't have room this morning. Raw steak is his dish. Rump. Thought you wouldn't mind. It's going to be your first time away from me, Goli, and you mustn't eat Mr. Smith. Our new boss."

Again aghast that Monday. Mostly because Miss Tomson's tender reference caught me in the breast. Tuesday Goliath was chained in the boarding kennel one hoped with his dish of rump. Wednesday he had his checkup at the Animal Medical Center and as I passed that place in the morning I fancied I could hear his growl as he chewed up other little doggies. And confess I chuckled at this tasty vision. Growling hysterically myself further on as I stepped straight into dogshit. A half hour on the park bench digging it out of the corrugated soles I wear for nonskid agility.

That midweek morning Miss Tomson had been quick to notice the lurking stink. She sniffed, and fanned herself with a sheet of typing paper, and cleared her throat. When Saturday afternoon arrived I sat lonely collapsed and futureless, staff gone home, cigar store across the street barred and dark. I went and looked on Miss Tomson's desk. The bleak expanse. Picked up her pencils and memorized the brand over and over. I repaired the electric plug of her lamp, battening the wires good-o with a screwdriver thinking of the juice that would go through these very copper threads to give her light. God forbid the passing risque thought as I slipped in the male plug for the electrical connection.

And a later Monday after a little shopping at the haberdasher round the corner on the previous Saturday, I came in wearing a narrow brimmed hat.

"That's better."

"What do you mean, Miss Tomson."

"That hat. It's a slight improvement. Don't ever wear that other thing again, Mr. Smith, it just doesn't suit you or anything you're trying to be."


"And if you don't mind, just let me give you a tip. Don't take this wrong. But don't wear that green tie with that green shirt, but that's not bad what you're wearing, not bad."



Uncontrollably I rushed into my office. Stood there behind the door. Taking a deep breath. Unable to catch it. Then sitting at my desk with the hat on as the first letters and papers come in.

"Hey Mr. Smith that hat. Is it for real, really. Or on approval."

"We could discuss that later Miss Tomson."

"O sure."

I locked the door after her. Being bullied by good taste is not exactly my dish. When we get to know each other better, let's see the underwear, Smith. The hat was only to take off in a situation where there was nothing else to do. Chap in the shop said this is what they're wearing. Who are they. Awkward to say I am not them. But the burning words, anything you're trying to be. I took my paper shears and dumbfounded by my own dexterity, reduced the hat to pieces and parts. Packaged it neatly. Addressing it elsewhere. And had to let Miss Tomson back in to mail it.

"Mr. Smith just one more thing, if you don't mind. I've got an interest in you, I want to see you make it. Don't get the idea I'm trying to meddle in your affairs but the shoes. The color is definitely too light."

But as well in those initial weeks of Miss Tomson's employ she was reassuring over some of the letters which shook George Smith's timbers with intimidation. Miss Tomson would take one look at them and say they're kidding.

"Besides, Mr. Smith, they couldn't do this to you even though they tried. You've got to know when people are bluffing, don't get the idea that because you tell the truth so are they. By the way, you got a license for a gun."

And late one afternoon at Thirty Three Golf Street when the cigar shop man was bringing in the statue of his redskin chained outside his store, and the lights were flicking off high up, and Smith with a warm feeling like the sad taste of goodbye, looked up as Miss Tomson was leaving his office.

"Miss Tomson."


"Miss Tomson, don't mind my asking you a question."


"It's about you."

"Sure, what about me."

"Why were you out looking for a job when you came to me."

"I got jilted."

"I don't want to pry into anything as personal as that."

"Sure pry if you want."

"Well, if I might perhaps ask were you terribly hurt by this."

"Let's say I was amazed by it."


"I was the cheapest thrill he was ever likely to get in his life."

"Please don't feel you have to tell me more. I'm surprised you were jilted."

"Well I wasn't really. Some guy started writing me poems and I thought they were kind a cute. So the guy I'm giving the cheapest thrill he was ever likely to get which was costing him a fortune I admit, hears of this and said get rid of this poetic curiosity and I said no. And then he asked for the gold key back."

"I take it, Miss Tomson, this gold key was to a nest somewhere."

"Nice way to put it Mr. Smith but it didn't have a cosy quality."

"Pardon me for using your jiltor's reference, but what happened to the poetic curiosity."

"He left. I used to feed him and drive him around in the car the jiltor gave me as a present. When I gave the jiltor the car back, the poetic curiosity took off south where he said it was warmer."

"Although I don't want to suggest this if you think otherwise, the poetic curiosity was really the jiltor."

"Yesh, put it that way. But he used to give me laughs."

"I see."

"Do crazy things like taking an orange and tying it to the cat's tail. He was full of deals too to make lots of money until he said he didn't have time to think if I wasn't able to support him. He was like you in some ways, had no taste at all."

And hatless George Smith would go home. Out of the dark shadows of Golf Street to the lighted highway streaming with cars. A little pedestrian bridge to stand over watching them zoom by underneath.


AT four this Friday George Smith walked along Golf Street and west across town on the cold evening pavements. The tall buildings alight, long dangling jewels. Threading through the hurrying shopping throng and river of cars. Under the dingy trellis of the elevated train, down a street of dusty book shops. And out upon a splashing fountain and the great dark oasis of winter trees in the park.

The marble lobby of The Game Club was full of hearty handshakes and members' backslaps. Lights twinkling with Christmas, the gift counter piled with white teddy bears and boxes of beribboned candies. Miss Tomson said she loved to hug soft things and taste the sweet. And as I left number Thirty Three I said see you my apartment at seven.

Smith after a few quick sparring rounds with the instructor followed by a beginner's lesson in wrestling, retired to the smoke room where he quaffed a tall beer overlooking the darkened park. Flagging a taxi back to Merry Mansions. The doorman with a brisk salute. Handing across an envelope.

"For you sir."

"Thank you, Hugo."

Safely inside Merry Mansions. Don't like the look of this envelope. Relax. Miss Tomson will be here soon. Have another little rosner.


"Good evening Mr. Smith."

"Get me a whisky. And two omelettes. Miss Tomson will be here shortly to eat with me."

"Leave the garlic out, Mr. Smith."

"Leave it in."

"If that's the way you want it."

"Just get me the drink, please."

Soon as Miss Tomson is mentioned Matilda's good natured fat frizzles. When she first saw Miss Tomson there was a half hour's heavy breathing coming from the kitchen, as I attempted to be an attentive host. Lifting the fur from Miss Tomson's shoulder. Tying up Goliath to a leg of the marble table in the hall. Then a crash from the kitchen. Matilda trampling the delf in rage. Miss Tomson looking all about saying, not bad, not bad, not bad at all, strictly not what I expected Mr. Smith. And at this cosy interval the hall table crashed with my Tang pot. Miss Tomson put her hand to her mouth. I was up and just got to the hall in time to see. Matilda was pulling a Iamb chop back into the kitchen on a string. Miss Tomson said, Matilda just needs her legs opened.


Excerpted from "A Singular Man"
by .
Copyright © 1963 J. P. Donleavy.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Singular Man 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Hagelstein on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"A Singular Man" is J.P. Donleavy's second novel, originally published in 1963. Unlike Sebastian Dangerfield, the hero of Donleavy's first novel "The Ginger Man," George Smith has a ton of money. He is a success in a business that is never revealed. Veiled and not-so-veiled threats frequently delivered by mail and courier have him in the grip of paranoia. He is building the largest masoleum possible, in which he apparently intends to live. He has a "behemoth" of an amored car as protection against possible attack. He can't have the woman he loves, Sally Tomson, also known as DIzzy Darling, a model and part-time actress. His wife and four cretinous children from which he is separated are no comfort. George Smith, described as "frond-like" is eccentric, funny, and something of a sexual dynamo. He leaves several women, including his housekeeper, in various states of satisfaction and anger around the city as he searches for Sally Tomson, finds her, and loses her. Sometimes described as Donleavy's favorite novel, "A Singular Man" is funny throughout, but with an underlying seriousness that elevates the story above mere humor.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago