A wonderfully funny novel -- with a protagonist so bizarre and beyond the pale that a reader almost longs for him to go away -- this book is a marvel of nuttiness and despair. Though it feels less weighty and far less politically correct than many other Pulitzer Prize winners, the award does not suprise me in the least. That it was awarded posthumously -- the author a suicide long before publication -- overhangs the book with an air of irredeemable loss which only contributes to the reading. The scene is set in New Orleans where we meet Ignatious, a gluttonous mound of a man, still living with his mother though well into his 30s. His "valve" is sensitive to the least psycho-social stress, and his rage at the world for its fall from the glory of the middle Roman Empire is unbounded. The valve in question is the pyloric, and its stuckness produces typhoons of belching and gas, caused in large part by the lack of geometry and religion in the world. He plays the lute and the trumpet, is writing the book which will restore classical enlightenment, and is very unpleasant to his mother. Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend, a socially conscious rabble rouser in New York City, writes frequent letters expressing her certainty that his celibacy is the source of his discontent and stuck valve, and that she could facilitate a cure. In seedy bars in the French Quarter, a failing garment factory, the Paradise foot long hot dog vending garage, as well as at home and in letters, Ignatious tells and retells the saga of his only excursion beyond New Orleans, a Greyhound Scenicruiser journey to Baton Rouge so terrifying, so assaultive of his sensitive valve, that he could not use his round-trip ticket, but took a cab home instead. Other characters are equally wild, the best portrayed being a young black man whose jive slang is artfully written, funny and smart, and who manages to swing from being "vagran'. Whoa!" to heroism. In the end, Ignatious' mother decides to ... but I guess you should read that for yourself. Great fun!
I first read John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces not too long after its initial publication and I remember being particularly saddened by the fact that such a talented writer had committed suicide even before his first book had been published. I found it incredibly sad that the world had been deprived of such a talent and wondered what might have been. But, despite the fact that the book has been on my shelves for more than two decades, and all my good intentions, I never got around to … more
New Orleanian Ignatius J. Reilly is monstrously fat. The corners of his mouth sink "into little folds filled with dasaproval and potato chip crumbs". The reader can almost smell his stale odor wafting off the page. He's lazy, unbearably prudish and arrogant, a thirty something agoraphobic who lives at home with his mother and writes hilariously bad prose in the service of a pretend book on medeival and modern civilizations. He is shrill and dishonest, both selfish and self-deluded. … more
"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs."
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....