There was only two things I knew about A Confederacy of Dunces before I read it. That John Kennedy Toole sadly killed himself before it was published and that Billy Connolly thought that it was brilliantly funny. I knew nothing else about it but if it got praise from Billy Connolly then it must have some merit. Billy Connolly wasn’t wrong as I actually found myself laughing out loud in certain parts of it. As the forward by the late Walter Percy will tell you, Toole’s mother pushed for this to be published after his death and Percy quite rightly found it hilarious and was another influence in it getting published.
In Dunces there’s humour involving crashes and falls and bangs along with failed strikes and misunderstandings and an incident with a bird. There’s is also some amusing dialogue not just with the main characters but with the minor ones as well.
Set in New Orleans we meet a varied collection unique characters the main character being Ignatius J Reilly . Ignatius is portrayed as lazy, obnoxious, appears not to like many of the people around him as well as being physically repulsive and who likes to exaggerate. At the same time however, I couldn’t help but love him. Ignatius is an intelligent university graduate but when we first meet him he is unemployed relying on his mother and his late father’s pension for any form of income. Ignatius’s world of intellectualism and medieval philosophy has made him struggle to function in the real world. Ignatius has a fascination for the philosophical work of the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius there are references to the concept of fortune.
Although Ignatius seems aware of the wrongs in his world he is not quite aware of his own (until the end at least) and at his worst is unapologetic and always has an explanation for what it is that he does or thinks. Throughout most of the story we follow Ignatius as he gets jobs, this is when most of the chaos ensues, the book also shows us how not to lose a job in many humorous ways.
It is not just Ignatius, we meet the whole confederacy of dunces, which is a little unfair, that’s just how Ignatius sees them who have their own stories and are all amusing in their own way. I would like to point out the interesting character of Myrna Minkoff. Myrna is similar to Ignatius in that they were university students who now rely on their parent’s for money and were both intellectual equals despite having different views to each other. There is an apparent degree of respect between the two.
There is more to Dunces then just crazy situations and funny dialogue. There’s a look on politics, religion and race and people’s views on mental illness and sexuality, none of this however, get in the way of the story this is no thanks to the book being set in. Towards the end we see how Ignatius suddenly looks at the chaos he’s created and how he should review if not change his thinking. I know this has been made into a play and it definitely has the structure of one but I would set it as a sitcom, a series of one. It would definitely work
A really funny book, there were moments when you knew something bad was going to happen and you see it all unfold. Absurd as he was Ignatius never felt made up, it was almost like he could jump out the page, though I would doubt he would have the inclination to do so.