Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces

‘Employers sense in me a denial of their values…’

A Confederacy of Dunces: John Kennedy Toole, Walter Percy:  9780141182865: Books

Occasionally, the story of how a work of art comes to pass is actually at least as interesting as the work itself. Think Kevin Smith maxing out several credit cards in order to make Clerks, or Sly Stallone refusing to sell the rights to Rocky unless he played the eponymous role. A Confederacy of Dunces shares is another example of this, in as much as its author, John Kennedy Toole, committed suicide in obscurity eleven years before the book was published. The Pulitzer prize winning novel only came to be at all due to the perseverance of Toole’s mother who literally stormed into the office of author Walter Percy and demanded that he read the book there and then. But does the novel live up to the story of its own genesis? I’m not so sure…

Ignatius J. Reilly is a genius and visionary living amongst a confederacy of dunces, or at least that’s how he sees himself. In reality, Reilly is a massively overweight, unemployed drifter who still lives at home with his mother. Armed with a fine education and a strong will, Reilly sets about changing his little world to fit his reactionary viewpoint. It doesn’t go well.

Reilly himself is a fascinating literary creation. Fiercely intelligent, but a social car crash. Endlessly literate, but lacking the most basic life skills. Enigmatically charismatic, but utterly loathsome. The term ‘walking contradiction’ could have been coined for Ignatius J. Reilly . The problem is, as much as he is a compelling character, he is incredibly difficult to warm to, and by extension, so is A Confederacy of Dunces. While the book is beautifully written, is it clever funny rather than laugh out loud funny, and the cyclical nature of Reilly and his life often threatens to spill over into tedium.

Despite these misgivings, I enjoyed A Confederacy of Dunces on the whole, but I did leave the whole experience yearning for some kind of meaning. Perhaps that’s the point?

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