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Hmm, you know that feeling you have when you're quite enjoying a book but are not totally mesmerised by it? Well, I'm having that with this novel. I was shocked to read about the story behind it - JKT wrote the novel in the 1960s but couldn't find a publisher. In despair, he killed himself. His mother was determined to get the novel published and eventually, she succeeded. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981. How bittersweet to win a prestigious award posthumously.


The novel is based in New Orleans and follows the fortunes of Ignatius Reilly, a spoilt, obese slob who finished university years before and who still lives with his mother. Ignatius is outraged when she suggests, at a time of financial crisis, that he might need to start work after years of sloth.


Ignatius is a bit of a parody. He burps, farts, lies around, stuffs twenty donuts in one sitting, is rude to everyone, indulges in frantic and frequent onanism, wears dirty clothes and is a whiny hypochondriac. He speaks in high-handed, formal language and scribbles self indulgent twaddle in his room. But, because he's such a parody, my interest has waned. There have been disgusting male characters in fiction aplenty - Martin Amis's John Self, Philip Roth's Portnoy - but a character needs to retain a bit of plausibility to pique my interest.


The other thing that puts me off is that A Confederacy of Dunces is so obviously A Comic Novel. There's something about writers straining to be funny that fills me with ennui. I had the same feeling halfway through Steve Toltz's lauded A Fraction of the Whole - it's like being battered with the canned laughter in a sitcom. I don't need writers to hold up signs saying 'laugh'.


I feel like abandoning this novel in the same way as I did Steve Toltz's, after about 100 pages. But I feel guilty about it, especially here, where the writer met such a tragic end. Like the Toltz, it's a mildly amusing novel, and I'm sure if I allowed myself to relax, I could enjoy it. But I feel that my standards have been driven up by the excellence of the literature I usually choose to read. Mediocrity - even fairly accomplished mediocrity - doesn't seem worth the work. What do others think? Has anyone else read this novel? Should I persist?

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If it helps, Leyla...: I abandoned A Confederacy Of Dunces (some time ago now). And I loathed A Fraction Of The Whole, and don't know why I bothered to finish it.


Feeling guilty shouldn't play a role, given that finishing his book won't bring the unfortunate author back to life... I'd go with your instincts and try something else. I shall stick my neck out and say, at the risk of incurring wrath from some, that the author's committing suicide rather artificially enhanced the reputation of a book which really isn' t that particularly good. There, I've said it.


PS I've awarded the prize for today's alliterative trouvaille to:

frantic and frequent onanism

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Thanks John!


I laughed at your small print 'There' I've said it.' I actually voiced the same thought about the book to a friend this morning. I don't think it's Pulitzer quality, though it's not so bad as to not merit publication.


I shall abandon it with a clear conscience.

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  • 4 years later...

Restored Post


#4 29th April 2012, 10:49 AM



I was very impressed with this novel when I read it about a year or so ago - This is the short review that it inspired:-


My initial overall impression of A Confederacy of Dunces was akin to a colossal pinball deck – but wait – hold back - that will simply not do – it is entirely inappropriate. For Ignatius it has to be bagatelle loaded with cascading spheres of various sizes and different materials rendered haphazard by a combination of collisions, gravity, and immovable objects.


And then conjure the inflated and over saturated images of Toole’s detailed characterisation rebounding and ricocheting through his surreal topography. Factor in a plot that has a sense of inevitability, and then of course, the dialect – a patois of brutality that both defines and caricatures his players. This book held me in its primeval grip until the very last page – until the final paragraph – for a conclusion that I had to admire, although at the same instance hated. For me Ignatius the complete anti-hero had it coming, but slithered away in a shroud of yet more fantastical accounts. Under normal circumstances we could assume that he would converge upon a more appropriate result in a sequel – but sadly that is not going to happen.


Some good bits:-


Some of the Jones dialogue provides good examples of how Toole mutually defines and caricatures through dialect

“And I say ‘Yeah I got me a nigger job and nigger pay. Now I a real member of the community. Now I a real nigger. No vagran. Just nigger.’ Whoa! What kinda change you got?”


The old woman pulled the bell chord and got out of the seat, trying self-consciously to avoid any contact with Jones.

Jones continues “Look at that, she think I got siphlus and TB and a hard on and I gonna cut her up with a razor and lif her purse. Ooo-wee.”


And then there’s Ignatius when faced with prospect of work, making an art form of his bloated laziness. :-

“What?” Ignatius bellowed “Out in the rain and snow all day long?”

“It don’t snow here”

“It has on rare occasions. It probably would again as soon as I trudged out with one of these wagons. I would probably be found in some gutter, icicles dangling from all of my orifices, alley cats pawing over me to draw to warmth from my last breath.”


I liked this a great deal. It’s definitely a candidate for a re-read in the near future.



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  • 1 year later...

We've just read this for the book group - only one person managed to finish it and she's French!


I got to page 167 before deciding that life was too short, there were some funny lines but that wasn't enough to overcome Ignatius who was so constantly unappealling and awful that he ceased to be funny and just became dull.  That was a few pages in...


John Kennedy Toole wrote this in his early twenties and it seemed to me to be very teenagerish in its style, spewing out everything with no sense of self editing and with that scatological humour that teenagers have. 


We were also wondering about how this ever won the Pullitzer, one suggestion (apart from the obvious sympathy vote) is that the Pullitzer is awarded by a team from Colombia Univeristy and JKT was a very popular prof at Columbia...  Just an idea.

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  • 6 years later...

Another disappointed customer here.


I enjoyed the book for the most part but wasn't necessarily blown away by it. The first third, where we are introduced to the wonderfully grotesque globule of man known as Ignatius J. Reilly, was a lot of fun to read. This man just utterly overwhelms you with his absurd, pompous affectations and over-the-top character. Then, however, I found my interest slightly waning, especially when we're introduced to the rather pointless characters (if you ask me) who frequent the 'Night of Joy' club such as Lana and Darlene and (worst of all) Jones. All he does is sweep the floor and say 'ooo eee' over and over. It's easy enough to read and has a lot of chapters predominantly filled with dialogue rather than narration, and occasionally there are some long, and very boring letters to and from his friend Myrna which I hated. The truth is the plot of this book (which only tangentially requires the involvement of the other characters) is rather unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. This book is about the amazingly outlandish Ignatius. He is the book.

And that's kind of why the book ultimately fails for me. As comical and mesmerising as he is, the man is an altogether unrealistic individual whose personality dominates all aspects of the plot. As a result, the plot therefore becomes redundant. Frankly, who cares about the pornography scam, or the need for policeman Mancuso to get an arrest under his belt, or 'Levy Pants' being sued. None of it matters. All that matters is Ignatius. He is simultaneously the best thing about the book but also the reason it feels ultimately... inconsequential.

The truth is, we rarely meet people like this in real life. The whole book feels like a collection of buffoonish clichés and convenient plot points, all in service of this obese and pretentious oaf. Sorry, but that isn't enough for me. I need literature to have something more to it than a clownish character who belongs in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

Not a terrible book by any stretch. But not remotely worth the praise either. I read through it rather quickly and found it mostly inoffensive.



Edited by hux
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