Ignatius J. Reilly of New Orleans, --selfish, domineering, deluded, tragic and larger than life-- is a noble crusader against a world of dunces. He is a modern-day Quixote beset by giants of the modern age. In magnificent revolt against the twentieth century, Ignatius propels his monstrous bulk among the flesh posts of the fallen city, documenting life on his Big Chief tablets as he goes, until his maroon-haired mother decrees that Ignatius must work.
John Kennedy Toole
La conjuration des imbéciles
traduit de l'américain par J.-P. Carasso, Laffont
«Drôle de livre, énorme dans la bouffonnerie et la satire, énorme comme son personnage principal, une sorte d'Ubu dévastateur qui lance des anathèmes sur un monde en décomposition.» (Lire,
The novel is filled with characters that could have only come from New Orleans: Darlene, who sells drinks in a shady French Quarter strip club, the Night of Joy, and creates an strip tease act with her pet parakeet in order to make her first break; Mancuso, an NOPD officer who is forced to wear a series of humiliating disguises until he is able to capture a single miscreant; Gus Levy, the indifferent owner of Levy Pants, whose failing company employs Ignatius and Miss Trixie, the 80 year old senile clerk who repeatedly confuses Ignatius with a recently departed female employee; Burma Jones, the black janitor of the Night of Joy who reluctantly works there at below minimum wage salary to avoid being put back into the city jail for vagrancy; and numerous others.
When I originally read this novel 30 years ago I thought it was uproariously funny and brilliant, as it accurately portrayed a segment of the Crescent City's population that I was fairly familiar with. Unfortunately A Confederacy of Dunces was a disappointment on a second reading, as the humor quickly grew stale and the characters did not appeal to me. Readers who are familiar with mid-20th century New Orleans culture may enjoy this novel to some degree, but I wouldn't recommend it for anyone else.
Nobody is likable in Confederacy. They are all wacky and weird in their existence. Not likable does not mean not entertaining. They are endlessly entertaining. Not to mention- sometimes hilarious. There is no overall moral lesson involved. You won't learn a damn thing about how to better yourself by reading this. No answers to anything are forthcoming. Readers looking for insight will be left shaking their heads and muttering insults directed at the author and readers who praise such foolishness.
Finally, the end is not the end. Readers will forever wonder if Ignatuis J. Reilly's and Myrna Minkoff's coming together will survive the next fifteen minutes or if it is the beginning a long inharmonious adventure.
The only thing that bothers me about it is the misogyny. Every major male character has some unappealing woman who is holding him down. (Ignatius has his mom, Mr. Levy his wife, Jones his boss.) I want to give
I just kept thinking about Toole's mom spending years & years trying to get her son's book published after his death, despite how badly mothers come off in it. Mrs. Toole deserves our undying gratitude and respect.
A very funny but, as its detractors like to point out, slightly flabby book, A Confederacy of Dunces is dominated by the huge
There is no looking past Ignatius – if you can't stand him, then you're not going to get far with this book. Still, I'm kind of surprised that so many of the negative reviews here are just complaints that Ignatius is unpleasant, or that the underlying sadness of his situation stops it from being funny. Maybe it's just different backgrounds, but for me he fits perfectly into the tradition of English comedy where I'm most comfortable, and where focusing on articulate but amoral monsters has been de rigueur from Saki to Blackadder. And yes, his situation is pretty pathetic, but you can't have good comedy without underlying pain. Besides, he wouldn't have it any other way. ‘Optimism nauseates me. It is perverse,’ as Ignatius declaims himself. ‘Since man's fall, his proper position in the universe has been one of misery.’
A failure in every aspect of his life, Ignatius, in his thirties, still lives at home with his mother in a dilapidated house in (what was then) the lower-class district of Constantinople Street. The novel's plotlessness follows the plotlessness of his own life, as he fails in a sequence of menial jobs (including most famously as a street hot-dog vendor), sabotages his mother's social life, tries to lead a black workers' uprising, and concocts an innovative plan to bring about world peace.
There is something almost heroic about Ignatius's refusal to accept his dismal position in life – he reacts to every indignity not with acceptance, but with voluble fury. Every time he opens his mouth to issue another misplaced denunciation against someone who's only trying to help him, I mentally rub my hands together with glee. It's just too much fun. And he's surrounded by this wonderful cast of supporting characters, all of them nonsensical stereotypes but portrayed with such disinterested, across-the-board mockery that it's impossible to find them offensive. I particularly loved Myrna Minkoff, a New York beatnik and caricature of the lefty liberated New Woman, with whom Ignatius is conducting a feverish love-hate correspondence.
When she writes him her plans to deliver a lecture at the Bronx YWCA on the theme of ‘Erotic Liberty as a Weapon Against Reactionaries’, Ignatius scribbles back in extravagant derision:
On the dark night of that dubious lecture, the sole member of your audience will probably be some desperately lonely old male librarian who saw a light in the window of the lecture hall and hopefully came in to escape the cold and the horrors of his personal hell. There in the hall, his stooped figure sitting alone before the podium, your nasal voice echoing among the empty chairs and hammering boredom, confusion and sexual reference deeper and deeper into the poor wretch's bald skull, confounded to the point of hysteria, he will doubtlessly exhibit himself, waving his crabbed organ like a club in despair against the grim sound that drones on and on over his head.
Your mileage may vary, but I could read pages and pages of this stuff. Which is just as well, because the book is not as tight as it could be, owing in part to the author's having committed suicide before getting it published instead of after. Unlike with some authors, I don't think that Toole's suicide actually has much relevance to the themes of A Confederacy of Dunces; I don't see this book as a howl of despair at an uncaring world, and I don't think Toole intended us to sympathise with Ignatius's worldview any more than we need to to find him by turns funny or tragic. It's much more knockabout and picaresque than that, as I think the ending makes clear.
It's also, among other things, a wonderful New Orleans book, in which the city's language and psychogeography play a major role. Toole's notation of the local dialect is both cartoonish and somehow completely convincing, and in a memorable aside, Ignatius describes the city as being ‘famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, Antichrists, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians’ – which does rather unfairly raise my hopes as someone planning a trip there next week.
But then, after wandering the wilderness of
I won’t even bother with the plot. (And, no, I’m not afraid of spoilers. I don’t think there’s any way to spoil this book.) First, you’ve probably already heard that this is about the impossible character Ignatius Reilly and his improbable life in New Orleans. Second, I just don’t think you can describe Ignatius’ life with his mother and the characters of the street in any way that even begins to help. Let’s just say Ignatius is a genius (just ask him) who spends his time navigating a world full of dunces (just ask him again). And those characters/dunces are as strange a conglomeration as you will ever see. There is nary a loveable character in there, yet you will still find yourself caring about what happens to each and every one of them.
And, if this tale serves no other purpose, it makes a great palate cleanser for when you’ve had all the Ayn Rand you can stand. (Take that all you self-proclaimed geniuses.)
Twenty years later, I've raised two kids, been through several career changes, remained happily married, and read many much funnier books. This one is just sad, and impossible to read without suspecting it to be highly autobiographical, by an author who killed himself at age 32. (Funnier authors: early Tom Robbins, Thomas Berger, Michael Malone.)
I didn't find anything profound, let alone humorous, about this book (though Jones is a hoot, at times). The dialects are handled well, but the verb "screamed" is used nearly every time someone opens his mouth. "Pass me that hot sauce," he screamed. Okay, so I exaggerate, but I'm too lazy to find an example. It's a story about someone who has managed to retain some bits of classical education, particularly from the Middle Ages. By claiming he was born in the wrong time, he gives himself an excuse to not deal with reality on its own terms. His denial of reality and the delusions he's under make him borderline insane. This is just sad. It's a sad book, with comic book plotting, cardboard characters, and one central character that is way beyond quirky: he's a sociopath.
The Pulitzer Prize was wasted on this one.
On the other hand, I also can't see what people who decry this novel as 'the worst book I've ever read' are reacting to besides the obious: its popularity. CoD is not a particularly shocking book. And as for the non-argument of unlikeable characters: please, there have been great books written about murderer/rapist/paedophile/Nazi protagonists. I'm sure you can deal with a fat, conceited slob.
This isn't a bad book at all. At times, and if read in the right mood, it can be snappy, perceptive and entertaining. The setting is superbly done. Moreover, Toole clearly has an ear for the cadences and particularities of New Orleans speech and can do realistic dialogue no matter the race, class or education level of the speaker. But, ultimately, CoD is missing something. I agree with the reviewer who pointed out that the humor tends to get a bit boring and stale after a while. Which is not to say that the book isn't funny - it is - it's just that, for a Pulitzer-prize winning novel, I would expect a little more meat; humor won't sustain a book for 400 pages. You need some emotional connection too, a sense that, despite the distance in time and space, the author has managed to reach you, to touch you somehow. You know that feeling when you turn over the last page of the book, put it down, and everything is different? The world a little better? Your heart a little more open to others? Well, I just didn't find that here.
+ setting, cast of characters, humor, irreverent race/class commentary
- lack of depth, humor getting stale after a while, suspicion that exactly no one would give this book 5 stars if forced to read it twice
Needless to say, I was expecting some sort of life-altering miracle book.
Which I found, but unexpectedly. In truth, this book is rather silly. The plot is wild and rollicking and highly unpredictable, the setting is intended to become a character in itself and doesn't quite make it, and the ending it a bit lackluster. However, what this book does contain is Ignatius J. Reilly, a character unlike any other in fiction. He is disgusting, annoying, pompous, ugly, and selfish. Yet somehow as the protagonist he is like a car wreck that, as passerby, one is drawn toward slowing down and observing. He is the first protagonist I have ever actively loathed, yet I was still intrigued. And, somehow, ashamedly, respected.
The dialogue between Ignatius and, well, anybody else makes this book worth reading. More than once. There are other interesting characters - my favorite was Mrs. Levy, a caricature of the spoiled housewife who I also loved to hate - but they are merely supporting actors to Ignatius's Oscar-worthy performance.
There are probably other, more literary reasons that A Confederacy of Dunces deserved to win a Pulitzer. No doubt others have written about it. But the way I see it, Ignatius won that award, and I doubt he would be surprised one whit. In fact, I imagine he felt entitled to it from the moment of his creation.
This is the story of an incredible buffoon, his long-suffering mother, and the city of New Orleans, with a wonderful array of minor but engaging characters thrown in. If you have a taste for the absurd, the comic or just plain good writing, stop reading this right now and
The backstory of how the book came to be printed is achingly poignant, too.
About the best analogy I can come up with is Quentin Terantino. People asked me whether I thought Kill Bill was a good movie. I wanted to say yes because I thoroughly enjoyed
I loved it.
CoD is to be loved or hated for a different reason. This is a book about people. The main character is an antisocial caricature of a man who terrorizes the rest of the characters in the book and how people see the book is tied to who they identify with.
I saw a positive review on this book a long time ago from an older Christian woman who declared that, while she hated Ignatius, she loved the book because it was obvious that the book was about his mother's plight and not--as some might believe--a fat thirty-something pervert with delicate digestive system. While I could not disagree more, it is interesting that the book really tends to appeal to people who find a way to identify with the people in it.
I think most of the reader who enjoy this book do tend to identify with Ignatius on one level or another. Considering what a bastard he is, it certainly isn't easy to do.
Yes, he is mean spirited, yes he is unattractive, but he does evolve through-out the book. The ending was especially poignant as he is getting in the car.
I could prattle on forever and I will not change anyone's mind. You really do either love it or hate it, but it does have enormous value and it most certainly deserved all of the accolades it has received.
Ignatius is an anti-anti hero. This is a guy who by all accounts should be hung by his thumbs and yet, still finds his way out of trouble as easily as he gets into trouble.
The cast of characters are as colorful as a Mardi Gras floating, which
And pity half the characters that deal with Ignatius. One wonders why his mother and a few others don't just slap him upside the head. He deserves it, but in a twisted way, you can't help but root for him.
Every character is eccentric and hilarious in his or her own way. While this book wasn't as 'laugh out loud'
I would highly recommend this to anyone who has grown up in or around Louisiana.