Book 43: A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of DuncesWhat a peculiar novel.

I had to slog through this book and at various times was convinced it was repeating itself. I’m slowly understanding that books that win major awards such as the Pulitzer or Man-Booker are somewhat dense to read, whereas the books that almost make it, but don’t are considerably easier to read. When it comes to this novel, the author’s personal story is tragic, but perhaps not as tragic as Ignatius J. Reiley’s story, his protagonist.

This story takes place in New Orleans and has the most interesting cast of characters, from Jones and Lana Lee to Detective Mancuso and George to Myrna and Irene to Ms. Trixie, Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Levy – all have encountered Ignatius J. Reiley and have not necessarily remained the same. Having never been to New Orleans I can’t confirm this, but I felt that Toole’s writing of the accents was brilliant even if I couldn’t read or give voice to all of them.

As with most cities, Toole shows that they are what you make of them and each city has many villages inside of the city. All of the substories intertwine and are connected to Reiley through his eccentric political beliefs and his obtuse treatment of people. It’s hard to explain all of the interconnectedness so I’ll stick with Reiley. I’m not sure whether Toole meant to write Reiley as a critique of higher education, but I interpreted the novel as a critique of too much higher education. Reiley spent over eight years in undergrad and graduate school and does not is the most lethargic characters I’ve ever read about.

In his various diatribes he assaults blacks, gays, women, the elderly, workers (teamsters), hobos, dancers and many more. He attempts to rile up various political parties and this is where I see the critique of higher education as Reiley appears to follow the books in creating a political party or a demonstration and failing miserably. It is very hard to describe the book, so I just recommend you try to read it but don’t be surprised if you want to throw it out or set it on fire.


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