A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole — Reviewed by Guy Portman


Obese, green-hunting-cap-wearing, 30-year-old virgin Ignatius J. Reilly still resides with his mother. With his idiosyncrasies, pompous old-fashioned views and deep-lying suspicion of anything modern, Ignatius is a ludicrous creature better suited to a past era, not the 1960s New Orleans in which he finds himself. We follow his antics that include an incident with the police, interactions with his mother, and a stint spent working at a garments company, until organising a protest in its factory culminates in his dismissal. Further escapades follow. Amongst the cast of supporting characters are a clumsy detective, a black bar worker, and a dissatisfied company owner.

This iconic humour book, the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, is less concerned with plot than focusing on absurd situations, designed to elicit a humorous response. Whilst this reader appreciated the comical creation that is Ignatius, he is an obnoxious and repellent protagonist whose antics become increasingly banal and repetitive; an example being the constant references to his defective valve. This, in addition to the absence of a meaningful storyline and the cartoonish supporting cast, in some instances consisting of out-dated stereotypes, made for an onerous reading experience. Despite these criticisms the book draws to a fairly satisfying resolution.

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