Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Confederacy of Dunces cover“What an insult to geometry and theology!” Ignatius J. Reilly would probably say if he knew there was a book about him which he hadn’t written. Though that’s not saying much, since Ignatius, the main character of the novel A Confederacy of Dunces, is offended by just about everyone and everything, much to the reader’s amusement.

Living in the quirky city of New Orleans, Ignatius J. Reilly is thirty years old and has a Ph.D., yet still lives with his wimpy and perplexed mother. He spends his days locked up in his bedroom, gorging himself and filling pages and pages in notebooks with writings about the awful state of the world. Ignatius finds fault with everything modern, going movies solely so he can criticize them loudly in the front row, and believing that an absolutist monarchy would fix the degeneracy of America.

However, after his mother’s drunk driving incurs a steep fine, she demands he go out and a get a real job instead of eating her out of house and home. This sparks a series of adventures filled with a bizarre cast of characters, including a ditzy bar dancer with a talking parrot, a policeman who must wear ridiculous disguises on the job, a senile secretary in a pants factory, and Myrna, Ignatius’ crazy ex-girlfriend whose letters repeatedly use Freud to suggest that he’s a little off his rocker. None of them burst from the page quite like Ignatius, though. Detestable as he is, we can’t help liking him, perhaps because his crankiness is tempered by a naivete which gets him into situations like trying to make a political party out of the French Quarter’s gay party scene or leading a strike of factory workers who don’t actually do any work. A Confederacy of Dunces is funny without being stupid, perhaps because the hilarious is centered on how ridiculous real life can be. We laugh on nearly every page, but also feel for Ignatius and his problems when necessary.

An older book, A Confederacy of Dunces is the remaining legacy of New Orleans writer John Kennedy Toole, who committed suicide in 1979. The novel was published posthumously, and it’s sad to think that the author was never able to experience readers’ appreciation for his brilliance. I’m sure he would have gone on to publish many more great books, but as things stand, we must simply laugh at the wonderful work with which we are left.

Sound good? Request the book here.


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