The best way for me to describe A Confederacy of Dunces is by comparing it to a quiet kid that is funny but nobody really knows it until they talk to the kid. There is a lot more than meets the eye with this book and author John Kennedy Toole wrote a modern novel ahead of his time.
Tragic Backstory of John Kennedy Toole
Before I get into the book, let me share the tragic story of how the book was published. The author tried to get the book published but was repeatedly denied by many publications. He committed suicide at age 31 due to paranoia and depression and partly because he couldn’t get the book published. His mother reached out to Walker Percy and pestered him into reading it. He wasn’t too keen on on the idea but her relentless pursue made him at least give it a read and he loved it. Toole wrote the book in 1963, committed suicide in 1969 and the book was in publication in 1980. In 1981, the book received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1981. He was right about his book deserving to be published but not everyone can see the brilliance before it’s too late.
A Confederacy of Dunces: Summary
The story is about Ignatius Jacques Reilly and the odd jobs he does while he carries out his passionate and eccentric plans. It is a comedy hidden behind the tragic existence of Ignatius who lives in denial and delusion. He would have fit in perfectly in today’s world and it’s many conspiracy theories. While Ignatius is brilliant, it is also his downfall because he thinks he is always the smartest in the room and listens to his thoughts only which conceal his shortcomings and barge on his farce reality.
In the book, Ignatius is one one many characters we follow and one way or another have been impacted by his plans. His mother is impacted the most and they both clash heads often which leads to his mother seeking freedom by going out almost every night while Ignatius stays home and writes his “novel.” She is the one that pushes him to get a job and he never forgets to remind her that it is all her fault he is in the situation he is.
The Confederacy of Dunces made me laugh a lot more than other books normally do. There are a lot of scenarios that are ridiculous and unbelievable and the characters make it even better. Toole could have written for a television show with his wit and humor.
In this masterpiece, you see Toole create a complex and tragic character. Yet, we don’t feel too bad for the character as we know it is his own outlook that creates his situation. Toole had a hard time getting published but his writing is brilliant nonetheless. He should have been regarded as one of the best authors of his generation. If you read one classic this year, make it this one and you’ll be laughing uncontrollably for that week.