603 of 639 people found the following review helpful
A Comic Masterpiece,
This review is from: A Confederacy of Dunces (Hardcover)
This book is quite simply a comic masterpiece, a novel brimming with original characters, absurd situations, and at its heart a blustery, vulnerable mama's boy named Ignatius J. Reilly. He is one of the most startlingly original characters in modern fiction, and his efforts at hitting the job market after his mother smashes their car will leave you in stitches.
A word on the history of the novel is worth mentioning here. The author, John Kennedy Toole, committed suicide in 1969, and his mother found the hand-written manuscript in her son's papers. She brought them to a publisher, who dreaded having to read even a portion of the work and to notify Toole's mother that it stunk. Instead, he was blown away by Toole's draft, and the rest is history. The novel earned him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize, and it is universally hailed by critics.
Trying to summarize the plot is impossible - the book cannot really be categorized. Ignatius is an over-educated oaf who stays home filling his writing tablets full of his offbeat musings on ancient history, which he plans to organize and publish some day but which presently reside all over his bedroom floor. Rome wasn't built in a day he reminds himself. He cites in footnotes, as authority for some of his offbeat opinions, papers he had previously written and hand-delivered to the local university library for inclusion into their archives. He watches dreadful tv shows and movies, howling at the screen with a mixture of delight and loathing at the teenybopper drivel, and in the privacy of his room his self-gratification is performed while imagining visions of the old family dog. And wait til you see him out in public, getting a series of odd jobs, including a filing clerk at Levy Pants (with very innovative filing techniques to avoid crowded file space) as well as a costumed hot dog vendor wandering around the French Quarter in a pirate costume. All the while he begins work on his latest opus, The Journal of the Working Boy.
There is a latent sadness to the plot, for while you are laughing out loud at Ignatius, his bowling-addicted mother, and the motley crew of skillfully drawn supporting characters, you sense that he will never really belong anywhere, and that he realizes his outcast status with his innate intelligence. Perhaps the author felt the same way in 1969, leading to his own suicide.
However, at least Toole did leave us A Confederacy of Dunces, a novel which reveals more with each rereading. Keep it on your shelf, and every now and then pick up the book to any page and marvel at the absurdity of Ignatius's grandiose ramblings, read exerpts of his bizarre historical writings, and revisit his comic efforts to organize a worker's revolt at Levy Pants. The list goes on and on. There is no work of litereature like it I know, and my only regret in reading Toole is the sorrow felt in knowing the tremendous body of work that was lost when he ended his life.
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Showing 1-10 of 47 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 26, 2007 10:49:42 PM PDT
Toole's mother didn't bring the manuscript to a publisher, but to a writer, Walker Percy. I believe he was teaching at LSU.
Posted on Feb 29, 2008 8:54:44 AM PST
I am not saying that I am a literary genius, and I do have tastes of my own, but I am a high school literature teacher and have read every Pulitzer Prize book I have been able to get my hands on. Even if I have not loved all of these novels I can plainly see why they all received this prestigious award. However, for the life of me, I am at an utter loss as to why this book won this award. The characters are neither likable or interesting and the plot is simply a bunch of crazy antics strung together. At no point did the story draw me in as was the case with every other Pulitzer book I have read. I just cannot fathom the love for this novel.
Posted on Jul 4, 2008 8:46:35 PM PDT
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 9, 2009 2:17:02 PM PDT
The assortment of ridiculous characters more than make up for the lack of a real plot. Ignatious, Myrna, the Levys, these are some of the most original and laugh-out-loud funny characters in any novel, modern or otherwise.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2009 9:07:01 PM PST
Robert J. Doig says:
He was at Loyola, not LSU.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 31, 2009 12:37:05 AM PST
William D. Wheelright says:
Yes, you are not a literary genius and that is why you cannot fathom the love for this novel.
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 22, 2010 3:41:03 PM PST
I'm so glad you weren't my high school English teacher.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 12, 2010 8:20:14 PM PST
I'm also a high school and college teacher of literature and writing, including Creative Writing. I don't know where you live or which books you've been exposed to or taught, but you are off the mark if you do not understand this book is another attempt at The Great American Novel. Part satire, shown through character development and their situations, make this novel tragi-comic, as it mirrors our society hilariously in an earlier time--which I lived through.
I had heard of the book long ago but hadn't read it until one of my sons gave me a Kindle. I'm a little over halfway through, and I love it. It makes me smile, it makes me grieve, and it makes me identify with a writer who gave us the best of his mind. I smile with Ignatius's mind-wandering meanderings. Paraphrasing the Jonathan Swift quote at the beginning, anytime there is genius, there is a confederacy of dunces, the novel shows we are ALL a confederacy of dunces who try to make sense of an unknowable world.
Can't wait to finish it.
Posted on Feb 12, 2010 8:24:20 PM PST
J. Mullin, excellent review! Thanks.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 24, 2010 12:15:54 PM PDT
Literary genius or not, it's difficult to fathom any high school literature teacher having difficulty with this book.
I am on my FIFTH reading through this masterpiece and though it may seem like it 'rambles' on first read, it is, in actuality, very tightly constructed. With the exception of the Hispanic waitress with halitosis in the final "Night of Joy" scene, there are no throw-away characters - every one of them makes multiple appearances and propels the plot forward.
I have not read another work of fiction that made me laugh as hard or as often as this book. I am in awe of it, its characters, its wit, its storyline, its humor and, strangely, its pathos.