09 June 2008

Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (January 21, 1994)
5/5 Stars

What a book, what a masterpiece! A comedy, the likes of which I've never read, with characters so unbelievable real I had to occasional take breaks from reading it.

The prose surprised me again and again with such beauty, wit and genius. From the first page, I was held in thrall to Toole's talent:
Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.

The everyday mundane, sometimes disgusting, bits of the lives of these people combined with Toole's writing is just incredible. It makes for such an unforgettable experience.

Toole has his some of characters talk his local dialect, which in many books (one I just recently finished), is so confusing, so difficult to read or to decipher. He makes it work. No, not work, he makes it seamless, perfect, brilliant. I'm not reading their words--I can hear them talking. It's beautiful.

The story centers around Ignatius J. Reilly, as does everything if he can make it, an overweight, over-educated, overly demanding man living with his Mamma, holed up in his bedroom, drinking Dr. Nut and scribbling about Medieval history and the problems of today. This has gone on for many years, and would continue for many more except for a family emergency which pushes his Mamma to take the unusual step of standing up to Ignatius and telling him he must get a job. His world is shaken, he is spiraling out of control, Fortuna has spun against him.

And thus, with much GI troubles and vitriolic ranting and railing against peoples in general and particular, Ignatius goes out into the world for the second time since college. The omnipotent reader is privy to both the actual facts and often, Ignatius's more flattering description of events as he writes about it later, with the view of future publication, in a Big Chief tablet in his room.

There were times I didn't laugh, though, but that was when I saw myself in this gargantuan idealistic slob, this over-educated moron trying to impose his world views on all around him. That's when, instead of laughing, I gave an inwardly embarrassed chuckle and moved on quickly.

There's an underlying element of sadness to the novel, to me anyway. Is it knowing that Toole committed suicide, and feeling that sadness seep into the pages? Or is it simply knowing that Ignatius is destined to bumble every attempt at every thing merely because Fortuna has it out for his overwhelming conceit? I think it's a mix of both, and this melancholy tempers the outright hilarity, balancing it, making it even more thought-provoking.

Other residents of New Orleans find their paths crossed with Ignatius, usually to their dismay, and always find their lives changed in some way as a result. The vagrant, the man afraid of the "comuniss", the girl wanting to be an exotic dancer, and many more. . . One reads about them again and again and wonders, how will they all come together? Trust Toole, he's a genius--the plot themes and characters come together like orchestral themes resulting in a crescendoing finale of stunning proportions, and then stream off again, a solo here, a duet there, until the final page. I was genuinely worried at some points, as to how the book would end, how Toole would leave Ignatius. Never fear, dear reader, as Ignatius himself might have said. It's a masterpiece through and through.

This was read for the Southern Reading Challenge.



Blogger Debi said...

Whoa...what an incredible review! It's taking everything I have not to grab it off my bookshelf right this second and commence reading! I kid you not! Seems as if this is one of those love it or hate it books...and I suspect I will fall in line with you. Though I'll certainly never be able to write about it so eloquently!

6:57 PM  
Blogger Medbie said...

Aw, thanks! :)

From the reviews I just read on amazon.com (as I posted mine), it is a love it or hate it book. I'll be interested in seeing what you think when you read it, too!

7:33 PM  
Blogger ____Maggie said...

This is one of my all time favorites! When a good friend of mine said she hated it, I questioned why we were friends!?! Great job Medbie! :D Now, I must go and release my valve. ;)

11:29 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

I've been wondering aobut this book. Now it is on my TBR list! Thanks.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

It is nice to meet another Pratchett fan too! No one I know has ever heard of him, nor will they read him. I saw below that he has a new one coming out!! I can't wait!

10:29 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

This is my favorite book of all-time! I even named my cat Ignatius! If my Ignatius could talk he would have complained of his valve as well.

6:13 PM  

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