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A Confederacy of Dunces

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Meet Ignatius J. Reilly.

Age: 30-something
Residence: his mother’s house
Job: several short successive blunders, including hot dog vendor
Education: post-graduate
Vocabulary: pretentiously advanced
Maturity level: 12-year-old
Gastrointestinal tendencies: repulsive

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is an explosion of loud comedy. It follows one bloated and obnoxious Ignatius Reilly through New Orleans as he searches for steady work, gastrointestinal tranquility, and a total rejection of the modern age. In short, the man is looking for some “theology and geometry” in the world. I’m halfway through the book and cannot read another page.

While it is entertaining, wading through Reilly’s tirades is starting to wear on me. He’s like a one-trick pony. His lectures and ‘letters to the reader’ get old. He whines about the many social and political injustices of the world in a very high-and-mighty tone that, funny at first, grows tiresome. I don’t see the book going anywhere. I’ve read 250 pages and he has written several letters, gone through two jobs, and met a variety of amusing people, some of whom I find more interesting than he (Jones, for instance, is pretty cool). But I don’t feel anything motivating me to continue the book.

I don’t often do this, but I gotta say it this time: avoid this one. It’s too much of the same thing.

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  • SuppleTrey

    I have to disagree. “Confederacy” is one of the few books that I’ve actually laughed out loud while reading. I do understand your view though as I’ve recommended to other folks who’s reaction was similar to mine but there have been those few who’s “world view” was up to my standards.

  • Philbo

    I bought ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ on the strength of Amazon reviews. Mistake #367. It’s the only book I’ve ever thrown out, as in willingly deposited in a trash can, if only to take out of circulation. Much of the book’s legend, I found, derives from the fact that the author couldn’t find a publisher; his mother found one for him, posthumously. Truly an awful book.

  • Hello? Confederacy is not fresh in my mind because I read it so long ago. But, I do remember considering it one of the most intelligent, funny and insightful novels contemporary novels around. My guess is that one needs a pretty strong sense of satire to appreciate the book. Anyone trying to read it as a bare narrative is going to miss the point of Confederacy.

  • ST: I did laugh out loud, but only for the first couple hundred pages. After that, i felt Toole was beating a dead horse. Comedy itself is not sufficient; it needs some variety as well.

    Philbo: I think we’re in agreement.

    MD: If this is one of the “most intelligent, funny and insightful contemporary novels” you’ve read, I imagine you have much reading to do (no offense, of course). Regardless of the satire, every one of his letters basically sounded the same and rehashed the same ideas. I ran out of patience.

    I guess i’m not geometrical enough, or something…

  • Eric Olsen

    I’m with MD, one of my favorite all time books: hilarious, audacious, touching, deep, and all that shit.

  • “Oh, my valve! It’s closing!”

  • Ignatius is something of a unique character. This is to be celebrated, for we don’t often find them in books. Then again, you could describe him as just a much more disgusting, modern version of “Don Quixote.” I agree that the book is too long, and you don’t necessarily miss much by stopping at 250 pages, as at that point, I don’t think Ignatius’s character and the other characters are developed much (by the way, Ignatius’s mother reminds me a bit of the mom from the movie “Water Boy”). There is something of a wrap up, though.

    “Don Quixote” is too long. And so is the great American Novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (eleven chapters too long according to Hemingway, and I second that notion). But they are still classics (whatever the hell that means–maybe we will soon get a post that will inspire us to thoroughly debate the canon and its existence). Despite its length, I’m glad that I encountered the character Ignatius and his valve–I’m laughing about it right now.

  • HW Saxton Jr.

    C.Of D.is just one of the funniest books
    that I’ve ever read.Classic,no doubt!!!
    I gut laughed several times
    during my first read and no matter how
    many times I’ve read it since it never
    fails to do the same.Having lived in
    New Orleans for a number of years,JKO’T
    captures all of the bizzaro world charm
    that is the Big Easy like nobody else has
    before or since.
    It holds up very well,in fact,I do not
    think it has dated at all.I think that
    with just a very few minor substitutions
    (just swap Ignatius’s hate of “American
    Bandstand” with MTV)and it could’ve been
    written last year. Everyone in the book
    gets what is coming to them (for better or worse)and the most unlikely people in
    the book are founts of constant wisdom &
    social insight(IE: Jones).I’m gonna have
    to put this on my to re-read list now.
    John Kennedy O’Toole’s only other book
    is worth searching out too.It’s called
    “The Neon Bible”.It is nothing like COD.
    It’s more in a Southern Gothic vein like
    a cross between Flannery O’Connor and
    Harry Crews.It’s about growing up white
    and poor in rural Mississippi.Definitely
    worth searching for.
    Your Working Boy,

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Another enthusiastic vote for C of D, one of the nearly perfect novels. Hilarious. Deep. Profound.

  • well, i’m glad i was able to provide a forum for the Blogcritics COD fans to discuss their common affection for the novel… you guys should start a group blog, or something… ;op

    meanwhile, my copy is still sitting on the shelf with the bookmark permanently stuck at the halfway point. and there it shall stay.

  • agd

    Amazing book! I have read about the half of the book and I am unsious to come back hole for reading more.
    Can make you cry of laughing and…I suspect…of sadness.

  • nowyat

    I too am half way through this book and will definately keep going. It’s unpleasantly autobiographical. It’s embarrassing to admit how many times so far Ignatius has done something, and I thought, “My god, this is me. This is my life!” Don’t any other readers see themselves in IJR…? Dostoevsky said the secret of writing is too take a common character type and then exaggerate it a hundredfold.

  • HW Saxton Jr.

    I don’t see how a book can be soooo damn
    funny but this one was.I’ve read it now
    a handful of times and it’s never failed
    to make me laugh and laugh and…….

  • hehey

    I personally read it in class for too, and the whole point of us reading it was to find a “deeper meaning” and the satirical side. I honestly felt that if I hadnt read it looking for the symblism and stuff, I would be agreeing the moajortiy in this forum and saying that it was a stupid book. I have to say that I thought it was quite interesting and makes everyone think. I think that Ignatius is just a man trying to find hapiness in his life. To help some people out.. here are some theories that might make u think abotu it differently :
    – Toole’s suicide note
    – Toole’s fantasy life
    – IG trying to save the world
    – Myrna is society and took IG in

    Just htink about them

  • simon red

    COD is a fine book. I am amazed by some of these blogs. Like so:

    “While it is entertaining, wading through Reilly’s tirades is starting to wear on me. He’s like a one-trick pony. His lectures and ‘letters to the reader’ get old. He whines about the many social and political injustices of the world in a very high-and-mighty tone that, funny at first, grows tiresome.”

    Is English your second language? Perhaps next time you should stick to the pop-up books in the children’s section.


  • Never read it. Maybe I should, judging from the comments it has received.

    How long is it? I don’t have a lot of spare time, and therefore I don’t want to get into anything that’s 800 pages…

  • SFC Ski

    I have to side with the “too long to be funny” crowd, the book really could have been edited down and been the better for it.
    Reilly is a unique and well-written character, but after awhile I lost all empathy with the shlub and wanted someone to slap him around and tell him to take charge of his life. Haplessness is only funny for so long, after that it is pathetic.

  • trumpetkid

    I can’t beleive those readers who have said things like “the characters in this novels are too over the top.” Do they not understand? That is what makes this book funny. Ignatius is so loud obnoxious and angry that almost everything that comes out of his mouth is funny. Jones’ sharp tongue lashes out witty remarks directed at Lana Lee. This book is hilarious and i would recommend it to anyone.

  • mgoedman

    one of the funnies books I have ever read.
    you can’t edit down books; in my opinion books should be read as they are written by the authors. Ignatius J Reilly was the subject of one of my college app. assignment and to this day, is by far and away, my favorite fictional character ever developed. I highly recommend the Neon Bible to anyone who enjoys profoundly sad and endearing books. If this book made me laugh out loud, the Neon Bible damn near made me cry. RIP Mr. Toole

  • Ted

    It is difficult understand why a person should review a book he has not finished.

  • particleman

    Ted – while I understand the point you are trying to make, it is also difficult for me to understand why i shouldn’t review a book I only half-finished. That I could only stand half of the book speaks about how little i enjoyed it, and that is an opinion worthy of a critical review. If a reviewer could only stand half of a movie, i probably wouldn’t spend $10 on a ticket.

  • Ignatius

    I think it is terrible to even contemplate throwing out a novel. Whoever throws out this book or discontinues their reading of it should be gassed. Their world view is far to narrow to appreciate the book as a tragicomedy/masterpiece and overall they’re even more biased than I am.


  • Yensen

    IJR predicted ‘basement dwellers’ DECADES before they existed.

    Reading the author’s biography on wikipedia after I had read the book had a remarkable impact on me. This man’s passion was writing this book and I think he really puts his entire life into the characters.

    This book deserves a read just for the fact nothing could ever capture its magic again. And after reading it, you’ll start recognizing just how many writers (be it tv, online comedy, etc) you know have taken inspiration from Confederacy of Dunces.