A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

Ignatius Reilly
Ignatius Reilly

A Confederacy of Dunces is a Penguin Classic, first published in the early eighties in the USA, when it won the Pulitzer prize for fiction, but written in the sixties or seventies. It’s definitely of its time.  Ignatius Reilly is a huge and controversial character in more ways than one.  Today he would be accused of homophobia, and a character eccentric in this way would have the pc buffs frothing at the mouth.

The author apparently committed suicide when the manuscript of this novel was rejected by various publishers, and it was only after his death that his mother found a publisher and vindicated her son’s talent.  The relationship between Ignatius and his mother in the novel reflects this ambiguity – the depth of love and the possibility of alienation.

In the introduction the hero is compared to Falstaff.  He is a vast gargantuan character, at odds with the modern world and in tune with Boethius, the classical philosopher.  I often criticise novels which lack character delineation and depth, where the focus is purely on action, but even for me this book is slow and lacking in narrative drive.  The characters are types or caricatures delineated in great detail but lacking psychological realism: they are more surreal than real.

In places the novel did drag, but I liked the ending which, typical of a kind of American novel of the time focuses on movement and change: it was one of the few exciting parts. Otherwise the characters are interesting, and parts are funny.

This book has its devotees – just check out the link below, but in the end I was glad to finish and look forward to some more conventional entertainment in the next choice.

Powell’s Review


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