A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

Well this book certainly didn’t deliver the belly laughs that so many reviews over-confidently promised. There was certainly a snicker or two to be had, but the overall humour just seemed too weakly American for me. Be that as it may, Ignatius Reilly is undeniably a brilliant character. Think the wit and intelligence of Martin Clune’s Doc Martin or Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House, only in a mediaeval history kind of way; combined with the personal habits of David Threlfall’s Frank Gallagher, and the charisma of Jabba the Hutt. Even then you don’t really quite hit it. Ignatius Reilly is a fat, grotesque, offensive, infuriating genius with an overactive pyloric valve and an unnerving affection for a rubber glove he keeps close at hand (pardon the pun).

You will love and hate Ignatius as he unwittingly insinuates himself into the lives of everyone he meets, mostly to their detriment.  The plot of the book is nothing short of farcical: an absolute train wreck from start to finish, but the motley crew of exaggerated New Orleans’ misfits combine wonderfully to entertain us.

Ignatius’ misadventures commence when he is almost arrested whilst waiting on Canal Street for his mother to return from an appointment. From this point on, Ignatius’s life takes a serious nose-dive, even for him, as he is forced to make his way into the shaky world of employment.

Critics of A Confederacy of Dunces usually say they hated it because Ignatius is so deplorable – well hello???? That’s the whole point! He’s supposed to have this effect: Toole achieved what he set out to. Reilly’s flatulence, gluttony and cutting remarks are what carry the entire story.

There is talk, lately, of another attempt at making a movie of the book. Well good luck James Bobbin: many have tried and failed, as you know. Probably the most intelligent thing Will Ferrell ever said was: “that’s a very scary project for people to take on.” With Zach Galifianakis cast as Ignatius, I seriously doubt they can pull it off. Something of this caliber should really just be left alone.

John Kennedy Toole never knew just how popular his book turned out to be. Utterly devastated at being turned down by Simon & Schuster, even after several revisions, Toole took his own life at the age of 31. His mother passed the manuscript to Walker Percy who steered it to publication. Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1981.

I would recommend giving this book a try. At 462 pages it gets a little saggy in places (not unlike Ignatius’s midriff) and I did feel like pulling my hair out a few times. If you don’t expect Pulitzer Prize brilliance, then you won’t be disappointed.


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