This novel was leant to me by my friend Dennis. He highly recommended it and exclaimed that it would be the most unusual piece of literature I would ever read. Of course that immediately intrigued me as I have read hundreds of books over the years, none falling exactly in that category. Written by John Kennedy Toole (never heard of him) and published in 1980 by his wife, the forward of this novel really piqued my interest. It was written by Walker Percy, known for his philosophical novels set in and around New Orleans. The manuscript was sent to him by Toole’s mother who insisted that he read it “because it is a great novel”.
Having heard that many times, he thought he would read a few lines, maybe a chapter or two to satisfy her and then be done with it. He read it all of course. I quote the final sentence of his forward. “It is a great tragedy that John Kennedy Toole is not alive and well and writing. But he is not and there is nothing we can do about it but make sure that this gargantuan tumultuous human tragicomedy is at least made available to a world of readers.”
The main character (and I use that word is its strictest sense) is a slob named Ignatius Reilly. A combination of Oliver Hardy, Don Quixote and a perverse Thomas Aquinas, he is in a violent revolt against the entire modern age. He is a deadbeat, a glutton, a goof-off, an ideologue. He lives with his mother in an apartment on Constantinople Street in New Orleans. His girlfriend Myrna Minkoff lives in the Bronx and thinks what he needs is sex. What happens between them is not your typical boy meets girl scenario.
His mother wants him to get a job. That is where the fun begins. Each job turns into a lunatic adventure. Needless to say, he only stays employed a day or two as he reeks havoc everywhere.
This book is all about Ignatius, everyone else just bit players but unique and well defined, in this hilarious and sometimes dramatic escapades of an unlikely “hero” with his thunderous contempt and one-man war against everybody! In bedroom at night, between bouts of flatulence and belching, he fills dozens of yellow tablets with invective.
Ignatius, who is obese beyond description, abhors fashion and style of any kind. He has full lips beneath a black bushy moustache, a flashy balloon of a head. His daily attire is his green hunting cap with flaps over his ears, his comfortable and casual voluminous tweed trousers (permitting his free locomotion), plaid flannel shirt and a muffler which guards his skin between earflap and collar.
Describing the atmosphere and goings-on in the French Quarter and on surrounding lesser traveled streets in the 60s, is the perfect background for this highly unusual and entertaining novel.
I asked Dennis to describe this book in one sentence. This is what he said. “There are a few truly unique characters in fiction; Ignatius and his escapades among real people will lead you into an alien world so close to yours that when you fall out of your chair laughing, you may think: me or him?”
I hope I have generated some interest among my blog followers. “A Confederacy of Dunces” is a wild and entertaining ride!