Steven's Reviews > A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
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Nov 09, 08

bookshelves: 1001, esquire75, jambalaya
Read in October, 2008

A lot of things are almost truly unbelievable about this book, but two of maybe the most unbelievable are how the book came to be and the depth of the Ignatius J. Reilly character. John Kennedy Toole committed suicide in 1959 and his mother found the manuscript lying around the house. She sent the manuscript to the reluctant Walker Percy, Long story made short; the book won the Pulitzer Prize and became a celebrated classic.

Nearly as unlikely as the book’s publication and success is the protagonist of the novel, Ignatius J. Reilly. Ignatius is a thirty-year old medievalist who lives with his mother, goes on and on about the difficult time he had in visiting Baton Rouge on a Greyhound, and not a terribly hard worker, there is nothing especially lovable about this character. Perhaps what makes him so endearing is that Toole writes him so well. Toole’s language: “A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.” Very great stuff.

Ignatius is tragic and comic and bounces about from one potential calamity to another. A failure at his work with both Levy Pants and as a hot dog salesman, he was best described in a review I read as a modern-day Quixote. Also of particular note in the novel, with a hat tip to my friend Paul, is the manner in which the City of New Orleans is a character itself in the novel. Not many American cities have the heft to themselves be a character in a classic novel, but New Orleans does. Although I have written about it before, the unique charm and romance of New Orleans holds a special place in my heart and makes this novel all the sweeter.
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