The Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1981 (mid reading review)

‘ I am an anachronism’ says Ignatius Reilly, the main character of this surprising, hilarious novel. This feeling of not belonging to the society, of being misunderstood is probably part of the reason why John Kennedy Toole ended his life at the age of 31. One can wonder how a book that was refused everywhere at the end of the 60’s became such an icon of the Southern American literature only 10 years later. John Kennedy Toole killed himself in 1969 after seeing his two manuscripts, A Confederacy of Dunces and The Neon Bible, refused by all the publishing houses. Ten years later, Toole’s mother took the manuscript of A Confederacy of Dunces to the novelist Walker Percy who succeeded in having it published in 1981. It won the Pulitzer Prize the very same year.

This book is hilarious, one of the funniest I’ve read. Toole gives us a gallery of characters so colourful, so improbable, so pathetic in a funny kind of way.

Let’s start with the main character, Ignatius Reilly. He is the definition of an anti – hero. He is glutton, lazy, obnoxious, arrogant, convinced of his own superiority, absolutely abject with his mother. He has nothing to like but…the reader can’t hate him either. His faults make him pathetic. He doesn’t fit anywhere and even  if you want to kick him out of his bed, somehow you feel sorry for him. ‘Oh, what a low joke was Fortuna playing on him now ? Arrest, accident, job. Where would this dreadful cycle ever end’ says Ignatius when his mother finally decides to throw him into the world.

Mrs Reilly is a weak mother, who satisfies all of her despotic son’s whims out of maternal love. She seems to wake up when she faces some time in jail because of one of his son’s tantrum and pushes him into the world.

Another unusual character is Mr Mancuso, the policeman who will impact Mrs Reilly and Ignatius’s life so much. He has to wear different kind of costums as a punishment for irritating his sergeant. He even ends up getting arrested because of those disguises. He is touching in his constant failure at being a good police officer.

So far, on my pleasure scale, I’m rating this one 9/10….

2nd part of the review in the next episode.

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