The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B. unsettled me

I have just finished reading the strange and sad The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B by J. P. Donleavy.

I was recommended Donleavy by a good friend, and picked up a little battered copy of the book last week when I spotted it under a pile of F. Scott Fitzgerald novels in a second hand bookshop.

I’m not sure what to make of the book.

The novel follows the bittersweet life of the eponymous protagonist -an aristocrat named the ‘last shy man’- from birth until his mid twenties. Balthazar B (the reader never being lucky enough to know their character’s surname) is unassuming, intelligent, vague, dandyish and (mysteriously) wealthy. Ba
lthazar is easily led, and falls haphazardly often into beautiful and dangerous scenarios.

The novel made me sad and angry and impatient all at once. Perhaps because I recognise a great deal of my own indecision and fear in the persona of Balthazar, Donleavy’s character, I found myself angered by the wayward turns and missed opportunities in his life. I was upset and amused in equal measure by the casual tragedies that punctuate the novel.

I was horrified by the debauchery of Balthazar’s irreverent, sexual and indomitable companion Beefy. I was pleasantly surprised that I could still be horrified by an irreverent, sexual and indomitable character of any kind, and chuckled often while reading.

If a novel’s success is measured by its ability to shock and move a reader, then Donleavy succeeded with Balthazar B. If however, for you a work’s success is found in a feeling of satisfaction, enlightenment or happiness at the turn of a novel’s last page, then Donleavy and his Balthazar are not for you.

Donleavy Large

my mood board for The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B. :

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