Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
I cannot remember exactly where or when I first heard about this novel: perhaps in passing time with another avid reader, perhaps in the classroom. Regardless, to whoever recommended this novel to me, whoever said that one thing that made me take notice when I saw it on a shelf in a small bookstore in New York, thank you.
John Kennedy Toole, in his one and only great work, has created a comedic masterpiece. A high school teacher of mine told me once that to be truly funny in writing, to convey a sense of humor on the page in any genuine and intelligent fashion, is incredibly difficult, if not the most difficult thing a writer might attempt. I tend to agree, and most writers do not come close to succeeding in the way that Toole did with his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a gargantuan pseudo-intellectual living with his mother in New Orleans.
The novel is written in the third person and concerns itself primarily with a narcissistic and gluttonous protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly. The novel follows Ignatius through his adventures in the French Quarter- his search for employment to appease his mother, his war against the entirety of our modern age, and his turbulent relationship with his girlfriend (?) Myrna Minkoff. The novel contains a host of other interesting characters, and occasionally leaves off from its focus on Ignatius to explore their stories, only to relate and turn back to the eccentric protagonist. Each character’s story is nicely interwoven with the main plot, and the effect is a novel that feels utterly whole and complete with personalities that are sure to keep the reader engaged (you have to love Jones). This novel, as well as being well crafted, interesting, and engaging, is possibly the most humorous novel I have read, and I highly recommend it. Just be sure to bring a dictionary….I’m not kidding.
(On a more somber note: this novel was brought into the public eye, not by the author himself, but by his mother. At the age of thirty-two, John Kennedy Toole committed suicide. He never new that his novel would go on to win the Pulitzer. He never even saw it published. One cannot help but imagine what other literary wonders we would have the opportunity to enjoy and laugh and marvel at had Toole gone on to have a prolific career in writing.)