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Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole Paperback – April 1, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

By now, the tale of Toole's sprawling comic novel of New Orleans, A Confederacy of Dunces, lives on as a modern literary legend. A young novelist writes what he thinks is his masterpiece, is rejected by a famous New York publisher, and commits suicide only to be published posthumously and win the Pulitzer. But in this almost hagiographic account, first-time authors Nevils and Hardy reveal a story that is not quite so simple. Raised in New Orleans by a mostly distant and later mentally disturbed father and a clinging mother, Toole developed the love of reading early. When he finished Confederacy, he sent it to Simon and Schuster, where the famous Robert Gottlieb championed the manuscript and encouraged Toole to make some changes so that the book would be more publishable. Toole refused, asked for the manuscript back, and eventually descended into depression and paranoia, blaming Gottlieb for the novel's failure. After his death, his mother urged Walker Percy to publish Confederacy. The rest is history. Here, mother and son seem to have stepped right out of the Southern Gothic of a Tennessee Williams play, but this is a sad tale of one family's descent into despair and lonely ascent into posthumous fame. Recommended for most collections, especially where Confederacy is popular. Henry Carrigan, Lancaster, PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

René Pol Nevils lives in Baton Rouge with her husband, Rick. Deborah George Hardy is a member of the Paris Poetry Workshops and founding director of Littlestarfriends.com. She lives in Pasadena, California.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Lsu Press (April 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807130591
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807130599
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,289,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

115 of 129 people found the following review helpful By Dan Ackman on June 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I still remember the first time I read "Confederacy of Dunces" lying on the bed in my college dorm room, kicking my feet laughing. I have returned to it many times and still consider it the funniest book ever.
So when I saw the biography of J.K. Toole, the author and suicide, in my local bookstore I had to buy it. I did not anticipate, though, being so swept up. The authors do an outstanding job compiling the minute details of Toole's too-short life, which could not have been easy since he was unknown and until well after his death. I was surprised how interested I could be in his grade school years-- although that is in large part owed to my fascination with Toole going in.
The key mystery to me has always been about Toole's relationship with Robert Gottlieb. For an unpublished novelist (indeed he had barely published anything) to gain the attention of perhaps the leading book editor of his genration is incredible. What happened? Why was it not published?
It's hard to fault Gottlieb. His letters-- reproduced over his own initial objoections-- show his committment to the book. On the other hand, his objections to the book-- that it lacked "meaning"-- were, however sincere, maddeningly unhelpful and unspecific, as he admitted.
Thelma Toole is presented as a domineering, overbearing, grandiose nutcase. But her successful effort to finally have the book published shows a great strength. It's actually inspiring.
Toole eventually killed himself after despainring of the book ever being published. This "failure" hardly explains his act-- how many failed authors go on with their lives or write a second book that is published? Suggestions are made about his homosexulaty (closeted) and his finances (bad since he had to support his parents).
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By debra crosby on August 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ever since I read "A Confederacy of Dunces" and heard the legend about how it got published, I have been interested in the character of its author. This biography provides an interesting look at the life of John Kennedy Toole and sheds some light on a complex man whose inner demons finally destroyed his spirit and ultimately, his life. His mother, probably the greatest influence on John, is drawn as vividly as he is, and comes across as a fascinating and maddening woman who nonetheless always believed in her son's work. Their relationship is at the core of John's life as well as his pain. The ultimate tragedy for us readers is that we won't ever see any more of his work. John's tragedy was that he thought no one would ever want to. A well documented character study that is a must read for anyone who is a fan of Toole's masterpiece!
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A reader on May 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was very glad to find this book, after being haunted for 20 years by an eerie public silence on the life and death of John Kennedy Toole. It seemed strange that someone could produce such a great novel and then take his own life before getting it published and before writing anything else. It seemed incomprehensible that there was no published biographical information about such a person, particularly that there was nothing examining his unfortunate end.

"Ignatius Rising" gave me a lot of incidental details about Toole's life, but no better understanding of why he decided to end it so abruptly. Discovering that he only submitted the manuscript to one publisher raises the new question of why he didn't try again, and some other new but less interesting questions are raised. But I still wonder just as before how much the failure to get his novel published contributed to his decision, and whether sexual and maternal problems were also involved. There was already reason to speculate about all of that, based on the novel itself and on Walker Percy's introduction, and this biography only presented new bases for the same speculations. It didn't reliably confirm or deny any of them. Much of the evidence provided about those questions is suspect, as the authors themselves acknowledge, and even the more reliable evidence is often ambiguous or contradictory. Moreover, some of the conclusions the authors draw are so contrary to the evidence that I have to wonder whether they may have, handicapped by the same misunderstanding, omitted some important material.

For example, on page 162 they present a 1968 interview with Bob Byrne, a close friend of Toole's, in which he says that "...
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The person who said "great subject, poor execution" pretty much nailed it. I enjoyed finally learning in detail about the background of Toole and the circumstances under which the novel was written, but this is basically a dry assemblage of facts with no real sense of Toole as a person or an artist. The correspondence between Toole and Gottlieb also says nothing enlightening about why Simon and Schuster wouldn't publish Confederacy and the authors don't even attempt a hypothesis beyond "they didn't like the Myrna Minkoff character very much". My own feeling has always been that Toole was ahead of his time. His brand of satire was far too dark and biting for the 1960s, and I think if the book had been published then there would have been an extremely negative public reaction to it - which might have been even worse for Toole than not being published at all. Either way, given the struggles he was having with depression and alcoholism it's unlikely he would have survived long enough for his true audience to emerge at the end of the following decade.
Note to the guy who thinks Thelma was the "ghostwriter" of Confederacy because her letter-writing style is so much like Ignatius Reilly's - you're overlooking the obvious. Thelma wrote letters to her son the entire time he was in Puerto Rico working on the first draft of the novel. Where do you think he got it from? Thelma may have acted as a sort of twisted Muse to Toole, but I highly doubt she was capable of conceiving of such a masterpiece of comic writing, much less committing it to paper. I suppose we should be grateful towards her for finally getting it into print, even if she was motivated by her own ego as much as anything else.
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