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A Confederacy of Dunces Paperback – January 1, 1987
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Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole's tragicomic tale, A Confederacy of Dunces. This 30-year-old medievalist lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, pens his magnum opus on Big Chief writing pads he keeps hidden under his bed, and relays to anyone who will listen the traumatic experience he once had on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Baton Rouge. ("Speeding along in that bus was like hurtling into the abyss.") But Ignatius's quiet life of tyrannizing his mother and writing his endless comparative history screeches to a halt when he is almost arrested by the overeager Patrolman Mancuso--who mistakes him for a vagrant--and then involved in a car accident with his tipsy mother behind the wheel. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Ignatius is out pounding the pavement in search of a job.
Over the next several hundred pages, our hero stumbles from one adventure to the next. His stint as a hotdog vendor is less than successful, and he soon turns his employers at the Levy Pants Company on their heads. Ignatius's path through the working world is populated by marvelous secondary characters: the stripper Darlene and her talented cockatoo; the septuagenarian secretary Miss Trixie, whose desperate attempts to retire are constantly, comically thwarted; gay blade Dorian Greene; sinister Miss Lee, proprietor of the Night of Joy nightclub; and Myrna Minkoff, the girl Ignatius loves to hate. The many subplots that weave through A Confederacy of Dunces are as complicated as anything you'll find in a Dickens novel, and just as beautifully tied together in the end. But it is Ignatius--selfish, domineering, and deluded, tragic and comic and larger than life--who carries the story. He is a modern-day Quixote beset by giants of the modern age. His fragility cracks the shell of comic bluster, revealing a deep streak of melancholy beneath the antic humor. John Kennedy Toole committed suicide in 1969 and never saw the publication of his novel. Ignatius Reilly is what he left behind, a fitting memorial to a talented and tormented life. --Alix Wilber
A masterwork . . . the novel astonishes with its inventiveness . . . it is nothing less than a grand comic fugue.”The New York Times Book Review
A corker, an epic comedy, a rumbling, roaring avalanche of a book.”The Washington Post
An astonishingly good novel, radiant with intelligence and artful high comedy.”Newsweek
One of the funniest books ever written . . . it will make you laugh out loud till your belly aches and your eyes water.”The New Republic
The episodes explode one after the other like fireworks on a stormy night. No doubt about it, this book is destined to become a classic.”The Baltimore Sun
The dialogue is superbly mad. You simply sweep along, unbelievably entranced.”The Boston Globe
An astonishingly original and assured comic spree.”New York Magazine
As hilarious as it indisputably is, A Confederacy of Dunces is a serious and important work.” Los Angeles Herald Examiner
"If a book's price is measured against the laughs it provokes, A Confederacy of Dunces is the bargain of the year." Time
A brilliant and evocative novel.” San Francisco Chronicle
"I found myself laughing out loud again and again as I read this ribald book." Christian Science Monitor
Crazy magnificent once-in-a-blue-moon first novel. . . . There is a touch of genius about Toole and what he has created.” Publishers Weekly
A masterpiece of character comedy . . . brilliant, relentless, delicious, perhaps even classic.” Kirkus Reviews
Astonishing, extravagant, lunatic, satiric, and peculiar, but it is above all genuine, skillful, and unsentimentally comic.” Booklist
Ignatius J. Reilly is Bette Midler’s favorite hero of fiction (Vanity Fair, August 2008)
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I re-read aCoD every three to five years for a "humility tune up." The book is a highly polished soul mirror that's a lot more true-to-life than most people want it to be. Ignatius, or "His Royal Malignancy" as I like to call him, is the central character, and an extreme example of an arrogant bastard with absolutely nothing to be arrogant about, but the whole book is like a case study for John Calvin's doctrine of total depravity; everyone in it is---to some degree--indelibly screwed up. I suspect this is why so many people hate this book. At some point they see themselves here and realize that the depth of their own depravity is invariably greater than they suspected, realized, or certainly would ever have cared to admit.
If you love Ignatius J. Reilly, there is probably something really wrong with you, but if you hate him---there definitely is. Either way, you're doomed.
It would be easy to dismiss the editors involved in rejecting this manuscript as grade-A lunkheads, or as the lead character (Ignatius J. Reilly) likes to verbally skewer his victims “Mongoloids.” However, one can see how said lunkheads would find this much-beloved novel risky. It’s a character-driven novel in which the lead character is obnoxious and unlovable in the extreme. Reilly is a pretentious and pedantic professorial type--verbally speaking-- wrapped into the obese body of a man-child who is emotionally an ill-mannered five year old with a bombastic vocabulary. Reilly has no impulse control, takes no responsibility, and is prone to tantrums, sympathy-seeking dramatic displays, and wanton lies. He’s the worst because he thinks he’s better than everyone despite the fact that in all ways except his acerbic tongue, he’s worse than everyone.
That said, the book—like its unsympathetic lead character—is hilarious through and through. What it lacks in a taught story arc and a theme / moral argument (the latter being why the editor at Simon and Schuster rejected the book after showing initial interest in it) it more than makes up in hilarity.
I should point out that when I say that this isn’t a plot-driven book, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an interesting wrap-up at the end—which I will not discuss to avoid spoiling it. The plot revolves around events in the life of a lazy man-child forced to go to work. It’s not a journey of change, discovery, or adventure. While, in most cases, a character-driven story with an unmalleable lead would be a recipe for a book that flops, here it keeps one reading to the last page because it’s Ignatius’s failure to become a better man that ensures the book is funny to the end. Reilly is constantly making decisions that are both overly contemplated and yet ill-considered.
The book follows Ignatius Reilly through an event that results in a tremendous loss of money for Ignatius’s mother. This forces her to finally put her foot down and insist the man—who she still thinks of as her little boy—get a job. It should be noted that Ignatius’s mother’s eventual coming around to the monster her son has become is a major driving force in the story—though we can see a distinct lack of taking of responsibility that echoes that of Ignatius, himself. Ignatius gets a fine—if lowly, clerical--job at the slowly-dying Levy Pants Company, but gets fired after he encourages a worker protest that goes awry. He then gets a job as a hotdog cart vendor—a job considered the lowest of the low by both his mother and New Orleans’ society-at-large. The latter is the job he has at the end when a final chain of events unfolds (not without tension and drama, I might add.)
On the theme issue, the Simon & Schuster editor was correct that the book isn’t really about anything except how to muddle through life as a lazy, cranky, emotionally-stunted, and overly-verbose doofus. (But he was oh-so wrong about that being a lethal deficit—according to the Pulitzer Prize committee as well as innumerable readers.)
I’d recommend this for any reader with a sense of humor. You won’t like Ignatius J. Reilly, but you’ll find his antics hilarious, and you’ll want to know what happens to him in the end even if he is irredeemable.
I was hooked from the first page. The book has a great flow to it with great evocative characters and wonderful dialogue. The book was written in 1963 so you have to remember it was a different world then. Helps to know a little about the social and political climate of that time period to put things in Perspective. Yes Ignatius is a jerk, but that's part of the beauty of this book.
I don't understand the negative reviews and the people that say they had to labor through it or couldn't finish it. I could not put this book down.
To me the mark of a great book is when you can't wait to steal away for even just a few minutes to read.
Easily one of the best books I have ever read if not THE best. I'm 54 and an avid reader so that says a lot.
Top international reviews
As comedy, I can at least in part go along with Billy Connolly, who finds this book the funniest he has ever read. There’s funny and funny, I suppose. Billy Connolly himself doesn’t go in for gag-lines; he tells stories. In this Confederacy the first time I laughed was at p175, although from there on some of the chatter was worthy of Chandler. What both Billy Connolly and John Kennedy Toole have in common is that they are memorable – the situations in this book are excruciatingly funny at times. I wonder who provided some kind of a model for the gargantuan Ignatius J. Reilly, so I thought of Rabelais. This got no further as I could remember next to nothing of Rabelais. Ignatius is a monster of obesity but super-articulate, and his funny side does not consist in his wit but in the grotesque situations he gets himself into. The other characters are a parade of oddities. They stick in the memory, and I found that there was not much sense of my pity being aroused. If there is one single character who is at least a partial exception to the generalisation that they are all parodies it must be Gus Levy, I should say, and maybe something of that even rubs off on to his shrewish wife, whose name, I seem to recall, we are never told. Ignatius himself – well, after being a completely impossible monster of selfishness for most of the book he suddenly seems to shed his monster’s skin towards the end.
As for the book not being about anything, it still has to be a product of its time, which is the early 60s. Any reader old enough is bound to catch the amusing references to ‘communiss’, to take a very clear case; but once again the author has a light touch, although I suppose one would find the general tone liberal rather than conservative. There is no reference that I can recall to political personalities, or even to political parties.
It must have been difficult to devise an ending for this particular book. I was surprised by it, but I thought it was carried off convincingly. We all, or most of us, know about the sad ending that John Kennedy Toole brought on himself. I can only suppose that anything there is to say on that topic has been said by now. Where he lives on is in this original and brilliant masterpiece. When pondering how to characterise that I suddenly spotted the anonymous contribution quoted from the New York Times ‘A pungent work of slapstick, satire and intellectual incongruities...a grand comic fugue’. (I love that ‘fugue’). There is a thoughtful preface by Walker Percy, but for me it’s Anon who hits the spot.
Possibly better than Salinger in its humour and humanity although Salinger was obviously 15 years or so earlier.
But the most nonsensical thing is that nobody even complains. His first employer allows him to bin ALL of the Companies filing and spend his day making silly little cardboard signs to put over peoples desks. He's in the same office as his employer who is happy to apparently pay him for literally no work at all, which in the United States is too far fetched to be remotely believable.
He gets a job selling hot dogs, sells none and every day eats his entire stock himself and pays the company nothing....and nobody complains.
The story just drifts into an endless sea of him avoiding work, upsetting people with his incredible selfishness, and getting away with it completely. I put it down to do something else for a few minutes when I was on page 190. I didn't even remember I had the book for over a week later. Not remotely drawn to picking it up, not caring how the story ends. this morning I dropped it off, unfinished, at the local charity shop.
Frankly this book is awful. Although it pre-dates Tom Sharpe it is like an American child read a Tom Sharpe book and decided to write in a similar style. And failed. Terribly.
Do yourself a favour, don't bother to buy this book. I think when they need to put Billy Connolly's recommendation on the cover blurb to sell it and you then realise that during the authors life it remained unpublished for many years and was only done so after the authors Mother paid someone to do it so her son could be 'remembered' [for being a rubbish author I suppose] should be all you truly need to know about this god-awful tome.