Monday, June 15, 2009

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Most comic characters are generally unknowing. Genuinely comic characters don't know how funny they are. Somebody who comes out and thinks that he's incredibly important, but he's not...well, that's very funny.
- Jonathan Franzen,

About a year ago, while walking down Bourbon Street with one of my coworkers, I pointed out this hot dog vendor who judged solely on his actions at that moment could only be described as crazy. Jane said that the main character in A Confederacy of Dunces was a hot dog vendor. From her two- or three-sentence description of the book, it sounded interesting and bizarre.

The main character of Dunces is Ignatius J. Reilly, the epitome of the anti-hero. He is grotesquely overweight, obnoxiously loud, extremely slothful, and not all that surprisingly celibate. Ignatius lives with his mother, who he treats horribly, in New Orleans. He spends most of his days watching TV, writing his "masterpiece" in his room, or catching the latest release at the local movie theater. Although he watches plenty of TV and a large number of movies, he describes most of it as pure dreck, hurling insults and vile oaths at the screen--silver or otherwise. His language and his code of conduct harken back to an earlier era. He longs for a monarchy, hoping that a king would impose some order and discipline an the uncouth world that surrounds him.

The characters that Toole surrounded Reilly with are nearly as interesting as the rotund curmudgeon. All of their stories connect in the over-the-top reality that is the French Quarter, when Ignatius' mother forces him to get a job. People often compare the character of Ignatius J. Reilly to that of Don Quixote, and with good reason. Both characters are essentially imbeciles; they long for the social mores of years gone by, and their tales are rambling yarns that are more about characters and experiences then some overarching plot.

Dunces is the most enjoyable book that I have read in a long while. The characters, dialogue, and storyline were brilliantly hilarious.


Carlton Farmer said...

Good article about the book:

Nihil Novum said...

The rotund curmudgeon was my basketball nickname.

hamilcar barca said...

i think one's rating of this book is proportional to the hilarious:obnoxious ratio one perceives Ignatius Reilly to have.

Carlton Farmer said...

I give the use of third-person singular pronouns a hilarious:obnoxious ratio of -1.5


I found Reilly hilariously obnoxious.

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

This was on my list for the summer. Great review.

hamilcar barca said...

heh, Carlton. if you found Ignatius obnoxiously hilarious, you'd give ACOD a slightly lower rating.

too many years of French. gotta stop doing that 3rd-person sh*t.

Christopher said...

Why is your ratio negative?

Carlton Farmer said...

I wanted to somehow convey my startling lack of understanding of even the most rudimentary math.

Cory MacLauchlin said...

For those interested in the life of Toole: