A Confederacy of Dunces
Today’s review is of “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole. Quick background – the book was written in the 1960s. Toole couldn’t get it published and committed suicide in 1969. His mom finally got it published and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981.
“Confederacy of Dunces” has to be the most original novel I’ve ever read. I can see why it was so hard to publish. It is set in New Orleans in the early 1960s. The main character is pathetic and despicable. He’s an extremely intelligent, well educated, obese, flatulant loser who just might be seriously deranged. His working class parents spent almost all their savings on his college education only to have him move back into the house and refuse to get a job. Ignatius J Reilly is 30 years old when the novel opens, unemployed, and living with his momma.
Once momma forces him to get a job, he proceeds to annihilate her hopes, dreams, dignity, reputation, finances, and life in general. It’s a hilarious book, but if your sense of humor doesn’t tend toward the dark, you might not like it. I can see how the book might make parents of high school and college age kids very nervous. Ignatius has to be the most selfish protagonist in modern literature. He seems incapable of empathy or maybe he simply doesn’t care. Intellectually, he believes the European Middle Ages were the pinnacle of human culture and he acts accordingly. He is a nightmare of an employee, nearly bankrupting the two employers stupid enough to give him a job. In his first job he tries to lead the factory workers in a revolt against management even though management is benignly clueless and broke. His second job is as a mobile hot dog vendor. He proceeds to eat all his inventory day after day after day.
There are several other characters in the book and some storylines don’t involve Ignatius except indirectly, but I didn’t find one likeable character in the entire novel. There is a policeman who seems kind, but he is so stupid it’s impossible to feel sorry for him even though his supervisor dresses him up as a clown and makes him sit in a stall in the bus station restroom every single day for a month. He’s supposed to be looking for suspicious characters to arrest, but that’s hard to do when you can’t leave the stall. It’s one of those books you have to read in small chunks or you will begin to hate the characters and refuse to finish it.
Overall, I found the book to be highly original, funny and enjoyable. The novel ends with Ignatius dodging the mental health officials his mother has summoned to commit him and escaping towards New York. He cowers in the back seat of a car while his platonic sex-crazed girlfriend begins driving them to New York. There could have been a sequel cause that trip to New York has catastrophe written all over it. No way they ever made it.
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