Title: A Confederacy of Dunces
Author: John Kennedy Toole
Never published during his lifetime, John Kennedy Toole’s masterful comic novel takes its title, as well asfrom Jonathan Swift A monument to sloth, rant and contempt, a behemoth of fat, flatulence and furious suspicion of anything modern – this is Ignatius J. Reilly of New Orleans, noble crusader against a world of dunces. The ordinary folk of New Orleans seem to think he is unhinged. Ignatius ignores them, heaving his vast bulk through the city’s fleshpots in a noble crusade against vice, modernity and ignorance. But his momma has a nasty surprise in store for him: Ignatius must get a job. Undaunted, he uses his new-found employment to further his mission – and now he has a pirate costume and a hot-dog cart to do it with…
The story behind this book is much more interesting to me than the book itself. John Kennedy Toole commited suicide at the age of 31 and after his death his mother found the manuscript, tried to get a few publishers to read it and, finally, one of them did:
…the lady was persistent, and it somehow came to pass that she stood in my office handing me the hefty manuscript. There was no getting out of it; only one hope remained—that I could read a few pages and that they would be bad enough for me, in good conscience, to read no farther. Usually I can do just that. Indeed the first paragraph often suffices. My only fear was that this one might not be bad enough, or might be just good enough, so that I would have to keep reading.
In this case I read on. And on. First with the sinking feeling that it was not bad enough to quit, then with a prickle of interest, then a growing excitement, and finally an incredulity: surely it was not possible that it was so good.
I gave the book only 2 stars, so obviously I don’t think it’s that good, but I just love how this guy didn’t expect anything and ended up loving the book so much that he published it, it became a bestseller and won a Pulitzer Prize.
For me the book was simply too much of a mess to properly enjoy. I liked some parts of it, especially at the beginning, but the more I read the more I found it annoying. Ignatius is different from any other main character I’ve ever read about, he’s not written to be likeable and it would be difficult for anybody to actually like him as a person. Which is fine with me, but I expected his adventures to be more interesting. There were some paragraphs were I laughed so much, only to be completely bored for the rest of the chapter, but I can’t really explain why. Maybe it’s just one of those books that I read at the wrong time in my life. I’ll give it a shot again in a few years, maybe then I’ll feel differently.