How much fun was this? ...And fans of the novel will be thinking with a smile, "well, duh". But stupidly for years I'd associated it with someone rathHow much fun was this? ...And fans of the novel will be thinking with a smile, "well, duh". But stupidly for years I'd associated it with someone rather lugubrious who liked it, (incongruously lugubrious, I'd say after reading the book) despite its being a favourite of some present-day friends, whose senses of humour I actually can see in it. The cover I knew best didn't help: those 90s Penguin Twentieth Century Classics could look very cool with their B&W photos, but what they don't in the slightest suggest is rollicking picaresque farce (likewise the dour Pynchon covers from the same range), or the sort of ripping read of which someone who isn't usually a fast reader might consume 250 pages, three-quarters of the novel, in a day.
And whilst no-one could want Ignatius J. Reilly as a flatmate, on-page descriptions of him aren't a quarter so detailed and disgusting as negative reviews gave the impression they might be. Yeah, dude stinks but it's not like it's a scratch-and-sniff book... And it's way more complex and less puerile than a Farrelly Bros. movie. (Also started thinking who could even play Reilly if this were filmed. John Candy would have been perfect, Goodman's too old now, and not sure Will Ferrell has the range.) And it's more complex than other accounts of similar individuals, whom, in recent years I've heard about mostly on forums or problem pages: the slob adult son who won't leave home or get a job and spends all his time in his room on mysterious unfruitful projects [has he got Asperger's, wonder the responses] or the slob male partner who doesn't seem to understand the concept of housework [did his mum do everything for him, and did he move straight from her house to yours without ever living on his own?]... here there are many more facets of all characters' experience, and slob's own especially.
Confederacy did, especially in the first quarter or so, feel like a book that hadn't been edited, something...flabby about it, and something non-specifically weird, the echo of vicarious embarrassment, which made me understand why it had been rejected: the instinct that although I might rather enjoy it, thousands wouldn't. Would I have thought that if unprompted by its history, however?
Before reading, I had no idea of the extent to which this is a novel about the 60s: no pop music, no, but social liberation movements are everywhere: student revolutionaries, black civil rights, working-class women's growing awareness of their unsatisfactory lot, increased assertiveness of gay communities (loved Dorian Greene and his friends, transcended Birds of a bloody Feather's hijack of his name and bits of old-fashioned disapproving language in the narrative), all of which - along with the slow demise of traditional-style smaller businesses and increasingly archaic obscentity law - drive secondary characters and their clashes with the absurd Ignatius.
Likewise, it seems like no-one ever mentions his idiosyncratic obsession with medieval life and society: how he thinks it would be better for everything to work as it did then - except, actually, not everything; his lack of self-awareness means he never observes that his own gluttony, sloth and frequent wanking wouldn't exactly have been in favour with medieval Christianity. Nor does he realise that his fragile and specific needs (something very high-functioning-autistic about them - fabric sensitivities are even mentioned as a trait of another character to whom Ignatius compares himself - though very much not about his duplicitous tendencies) would have made it impossible for him to cope as a peasant or journeyman even if the working hours weren't always as arduous as commonly thought. (And if he'd have seen himself as a learned monk instead, how come he doesn't try to follow a trivium and quadrivium-like course of study?... Is that a symptom of Ignatius' cherry picking, or of the author's relatively superficial historical knowledge? There's so much more could have been done with his medievalism, fr instance, demanding dozens of saints' days off work. Though it's easy to say nowadays, to think in detail about the idea of living historically, now re-enactors are a far better-known, better-developed phenomenon.) Ignatius' dissatisfaction with society and systems of work, and inability to live up to his own ideals are simply an exaggeration of the way many people feel, even if they do, thank goodness, have more awareness of self and others than he does.
It had been a while since I'd found any of those curious coincidences of detail between books I'd read around the same time, but here at last were some more: foods en daube here and To the Lighthouse, and office admin girls named Gloria (The Hour of the Star).
But yeah, this was so not a book to be afraid of, and despite its being in Classic imprints it shouldn't be imagined weighty in any respect other than its protagonist's bulk; simply a very readable - though yes, rarely pretty - romp of a comic novel. Real enough that many of the characters never stop worrying about money; more than silly enough to be escapist....more