Reading a highly popular, arguably classic, cult favorite with a fresh eye and without preconceptions is not an easy task. I expected Ignatius J. Reilly to leap off the page at me. I wasn't disappointed. On the first page, outside a staid department store in New Orleans, Ignatius in his usual grotesque costume of green hunting camp and too small flannel shirt is awaiting his mother innocently enough until a policeman decides he is a vagrant and tries to arrest him. A crowd is quickly engaged by his steaming objections and loud protestations. Ignatius is at his best when hollering for help. When his weary mother makes an appearance, "Mother!" he called "Not a moment too soon. I've been seized."
We quickly meet friends and denizens not quite on the underside of New Orleans, but leaning that way. Ignatius is a force of nature that needs to be fed, nurtured, and kept on course not only by his long-suffering mother, but any citizen who happens to cross his path. If Ignatius is left to his own devices, he is like a loose pinball, except a pinball never screams for help.
Ignatius, who is the epitome of pseudo independence and ingratitude, actually is fearful of being left alone. When his mother, for the first time in living memory, decides to have a night out, Ignatius is piteous, "I shall probably be misused by some intruder!" he screamed.
For the first third of the book, I was highly indignant at Ignatius: his selfishness, his arrogance and his ingratitude. Gradually, I became fond of him and then fearful for him. He is underscored with tragedy; he has a vision of a world not of his making and it threatens him. Somehow Mr. Toole gathers up all the threads and the end is not chaos as I feared, but everyone seems to get just what they deserve. I was pleased, and I think you will be too.