This book is an acclaimed masterpiece of comedy, a Pulitzer prize winner and according to my friend Leanie, whose judgment I trust in all things artistic, the funniest book she has ever read. It simply didn’t capture me at all.
Ignatius J. Reilly is a dirty, obese, lazy, scowling serial masturbater who holds the world and everyone in it with utter contempt. That is a hard character to build a novel around. And according to what we might call the David Brent Rule for antiheroes, if you’re gonna chart a story around someone so repugnant, there must be a kernel to them which can be truly loved. Maybe I missed it, or maybe the scene around the burial of Rex was meant to evoke it in me but at no point did Kennedy Toole make me like or even understand Reilly. As his mother says of him, he isn’t only crazy, he’s mean too.
And I can see that the novel is charted out like The Consolations of Philosophy, which is Reilly’s favourite book. There are plenty of memorable and amusing set-pieces (“Attacked by a bird,” Mrs. Reilly wept. “That hadda happen to you, Ignatius. Nobody ever gets attacked by a bird.”). I can appreciate that there is a vivid description of New Orleans. But the problem isn’t just that the lead character is such a gickbag. Everyone is awful. His mother is weak and aggressive, the Levy couple are awful to each other and dreadful on their own, Mancuso is inexplicable in his incompetence- there is no one in this novel you can even hope to like.
Which makes it hard to finish the novel and say, “Gee, that was a book I liked!”
Your Correspondent, Needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency.