Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

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.

3 Replies to “Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole”

  1. A friend recommended this highly to me as well – I didn’t get past a few chapters. Where once I would have soldiered on, these days life seems too short to finish books I’m not enjoying.

  2. I have become wholeheartedly convinced of the principle that life is too short for books that don’t grab you. Imagine how burdensome it would be if you dedicated to spend 8 hours with every single person you ever met, even if they totally grated on you?

  3. Oh My goodness. Has anyone heard of stereotypes? A stereotype is a literary device for a reason. I just listened to an interview about Kurt Vonnegut and how his books– the message is one needs to be kind.!!! Is everyone in ACOD trying to be kind trying to be good and then something bad happens to them. Ignatius waits for his mother –good Ignatius gets harrased by the cop bad someone intervenes- good he gets arrested, bad . Everyone has a motive a drive a purpose and if you take into context their motive vs their circumstance it can make sense. If you say New Orleans is a microcosism of everyman/every city I also will forward the idea the formulatic device created by this author is the template for all successful sit coms on television today. the character development the overlapping of paths wait did any one here ever read Ulysses?? Good grief the bafoons and righteous indigantion of the characters in the book the victims looking to blame someone for their troubles. well Hello, we all have troubles but well the vast majority of us go about our business of either a mindless hourly job or we strive for greatness. (Coping skills take a pysch class and get a grip ) Steve Jobs had a vision Bill gates had a Vision henry Ford had a vision I have a vision you will re read the book but learn about the era in which this author lived the 1950s-60s in the US was an age where a vast demographic of young people were drawn in to WAR wars in far off countries one needs a context to understand I digress who where when what and why

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