Saturday, June 27, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a funny reversal of review protocol, I am giving this book a higher "star rating" than I will give it in written description. This is because in terms of literary and written merit, A Confederacy of Dunces does deserve four stars. The language in this novel is absolutely unique: each character has a distinctive and identifiable voice that is extremely appropriate to his/her character, not the least of whom is the book's idiotic genius protagonist, Ignatius Reilly. Moreover, Toole infuses each turn of events with such well-thought-out irony, his careful crafting of the novel can only be applauded.

All of this being said, I didn't fully enjoy reading this novel. Why? Well, perhaps because I didn't find it laugh-out-loud funny. It was funny, and I kept wanting to laugh, but for some reason, Ignatius (the protagonist) just annoyed me so much that I never could manage to release a chuckle. The character who amused me most, truth be told, was Jones, the vagrant negro who gets a job as a janitor at the Night of Joy after sharing a jail cell with an old man who was mistakenly arrested in lieu of Ignatius. His dialect, his speech mannerisms, his sarcasm--I wished I could have been in the same room as this man!

Most of the characters in this novel annoyed me, and--SPOILER ALERT!!!--because the ending was happy for everyone (Ignatius gets away, his mother gets married, Mr. Levy saves his company, Mancuso gets his big break arresting the evil porn peddler), I felt even more annoyed by the time I got to the end. I wanted insolent, obnoxious Ignatius to get what he deserved. Throughout the whole book, I too had sneered at Mancuso, along with every other character. Why should he have the good fortune of arresting Ms. Lee? She was much smarter than him!

Nevertheless, for me to feel as I do about the various characters, I must admit that the book was written well. My largest literary criticisms were 1) Dr. Talc seemed to me to be an unnecessary character; I did not see how his addition and that subplot lent the book any added interest or meaning and 2) that in light of how uniquely every other character was portrayed, Claude appeared rather faceless and one-dimensional after his role as the "communiss-hating old man" in the jail cell was fulfilled. As Mrs. Reilly's suitor, he faded into the background as a stock character, which was unusual considering how dynamically and colorfully the rest of the cast of characters were portrayed.

Note: This was my second time reading this book. I read it specifically to see if I would find New Orleans a more enticing setting after having visited the place last April. Unfortunately, the setting of the book was not addressed in particular detail, so the answer to my query was no. I did, however, realize that upon my first reading, I had skipped over every single one of Ignatius's written passages in my eagerness to "hurry along the story." I am glad that I took the time to read them this time around, because they were usually amusing, if rather wordy and dense (which was why I skipped them in the first place). Considering these passages in the context of both the book and of scholarly writing, this would make an interesting book to teach in high school or college.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might be interested in the publishing history of this book. A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES had been submitted to some 100 commercial publishers, all--except the last one, of course--turned it down. The one who accepted it for publication was the Louisiana State University Press because of its local interest. They published it quite successfully in hardback; they sold the paperback reprint rights for a handsome sum to a well-known commercial publisher, who also had great success with it.