Book Note: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole



I loved this book. The amount of creativity that is poured into these pages to invent such absurd characters and situations is astounding.

I was concerned that the humor would be so thickly layered that I would be feeling dumber and dumber with each page I read. Thankfully, when the main character is Ignatius Reilly the reader is never the biggest idiot. There are undoubtedly multiple layers in this story – it is rich in perspective and personalities – but even a superficial reading will elicit eye rolls and nose snorts on just about every page. If you’re not sure your face can handle the workout, don’t read it.

While Ignatius Reilly wobbles about New Orleans, chauffered by his mother, he rambles mockingly about the inconsistencies, inattentions, perversions, and horror of society around him. He values decisions based on theological and geometric worth – ironic since he is spiritually without religion and physically without corners.

Are you familiar with the cliche “Like watching a train wreck?” Reading A Confederacy of Dunces is the literary equivalent. It was so intriguing and unusual and perfectly executed that I couldn’t help but continue reading; likewise, it was so outlandish and outrageous and awkward that I felt a little bad watching it. I just couldn’t see how any of it was going to end well. The sitautions and characters were constantly creating a stage of discomfort for the reader by operating within a mindset that they wholly believed to be functional and healthy but readers will identify as ridiculous. Every character was an exaggeration without exception.

As for it ending well, that was the best part. I expected that it would have to have a “happy ending” almost as the biggest joke of the book. It doesn’t end well in that everyone is happy, healthy, and wealthy. It does end with most of the characters getting new options for the next phase of their lives. Ignatius avoids his mother’s attempt to put him in a mental institution by escaping with his former girlfriend. His mother escapes her confining role as mother of an ingrate and explores the rest of what life might have to offer. Mr. Levy gets inspiration for his deteriorating company and gets rid of his wife. Policeman Mancuso gets a promotion for stumbling on the biggest case of his career. Darlene gets to a new gig for her canary-striptease. Jones wins an award.  Trixie gets to retire and gets her company ham.

None of it happens through intentional or strategic pursuit by the characters, and none of it happens in any way that one would naturally expect. By writing in such comedic tone and language Toole creates a masterful work of social commentary. He pokes at minority issues, sexual morality, politics, law and order, education, stereotypes, and most other topics of literary concern with a two-pronged hot dog fork.

I loved this book. I enjoyed it from start to finish. It was entertaining and smart without being overbearing and pretentious. It had literary value without being depressing and melancholy. It’s colorful and creative. It was funny. But again, if your face can’t handle an excessive amount of eye rolling, nose snorting, and a perpetual state of “He did what,” then this is probably not a good book for you.

2 Responses to “Book Note: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole”

    • RebeccaV

      Thanks for stopping by – looks like I need to browse through your reading to get some more ideas for books to read! I love that you have such a wide range of selections on your blog! This book is definitely one of my favorites!


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