Thursday, June 23, 2011

review : a confederacy of dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

You probably read Joanne Horniman's post yesterday over at her blog Secret Scribbled about this wonderful book. This was one of the books I read during those delightful undergraduate years when my classmates took everything rawther seriously, and I reveled in it.

Ignatius, a college graduate, is entirely convinced of his superiority to pretty much everyone and everything in modern life (and much of history too). He's writing a great tome on big chief tablets in pencil. He knows an awful lot and spends his days philosophising and avoiding much of humanity. But when he and his mother (with whom he lives) need money, a new fate awaits Ignatius: "and what a vicious fate it was to be: now he was faced with the perversion of having to GO TO WORK."

As Jo said in her post:

It's a book that could manage to offend everyone, if they wanted to be offended: homosexuals, heterosexuals, blacks, Jews, overeducated fat white boys from New Orleans, little old ladies, mothers ... except that it is somehow one of those books that is so big and warm-hearted and inclusive that (if you read it right, just as you can't be offended by Mark Twain if you read him right) it is actually the most liberal, progressive and forward-looking of novels.

Yet I delight in Ignatius' self-righteous and almost repugnant observations and comments. You feel for the cretin: "I am forced to function in a century which I loathe." I love it because it's honest, but hyperbolic at the same time - yes, that's just how amazingly well written and clever this book is.

The dialogue is pitch-perfect and the descriptions superb. Toole captured all those little parts of human life and culture that just make the words leap from the page, whacking your funny bone on the way to your heart. The dialogues between Ignatius and his mother Mrs Reilly, in particular, are spectacular examples of characterisation and dialogue. Also, it amuses me how Ignatius holds a particular disdain for Mark Twain. Calls him a "dreary fraud".

Jo posted today about John Kennedy Toole's only other novel, The Neon Bible. We'll just have to wonder what other gems Toole would have given us.


  1. Great post, Kate. One thing I didn't say is that I almost identify with Ignatius, and I see you do a little bit, too: 'yet I delight in Ignatius' self -righteous and almost repugnant observations ...'.

  2. err, yes i suppose i do, almost.

    ah, self-righteousness and repugnance - the two most important qualities of any blogger (or writer)...

  3. anonymousaurus missgrae says stop making my lists longer i can't keep up!!!

  4. ... a writer - of course, that's one of the most important things about Ignatius - he's a writer! And maybe why I identify.

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