July 15, 2015

Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Title: A Confederacy of Dunces

Author: John Kennedy Toole

Publisher: Grove Press

Date of Publication: 1980

Number of Pages: 416


"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs."

Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole's tragicomic tale, A Confederacy of Dunces. This 30-year-old medievalist lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, pens his magnum opus on Big Chief writing pads he keeps hidden under his bed, and relays to anyone who will listen the traumatic experience he once had on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Baton Rouge. ("Speeding along in that bus was like hurtling into the abyss.") But Ignatius's quiet life of tyrannizing his mother and writing his endless comparative history screeches to a halt when he is almost arrested by the overeager Patrolman Mancuso--who mistakes him for a vagrant--and then involved in a car accident with his tipsy mother behind the wheel. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Ignatius is out pounding the pavement in search of a job.


If the funny books themed read has a classic book, then this is A Confederacy of Dunces. It's a very famous novel, often described as the funniest book ever written. But, the circumstances of its publication are also well-known. I won't hide that before I started reading it I had been very hyped about it. Maybe this is the reason why I ended up disappointed.

The central plot of the novel revolves around Ignatius Jacques Reilly, who is forced by his mother to search for a job. But, there are numerous others subplots that in one way or another depend upon Ignatius' actions. These actions caused several turmoils and chaos and I was actually frustrated that in the end Ignatius managed to get away with them. I also felt that some of these subplots, like the one with Miss Trixie and Mrs. Levy, were unnecessary and didn't offer anything to the story. When I came upon these, I felt the urge to just pass those pages.

Ignatius is not a likeable character, but I'm not sure that he was ever intended to be one. He is a medievalist, who doesn't actually enjoy anything, constantly criticises society and has very firm notions. He is thirty years old, but he doesn't have a job. He's not even trying to get one. His mother tries to motivate him, but her endeavours are in vain. In his job interviews, it's like he's trying not to make a good impression. I felt that he was settled in a situation where his mother provided him everything and he was taking advantage of it. Actually, this happened in every situation he was involved and I was surprised how easily all the characters were deceived by him. Personally, I agreed with Myrna Minkoff, his sort of ex-girlfriend, who insisted that he needed human contact and a sexual relationship. But for me, the fact that he caused me such strong emotions is a sign of the effectiveness of Toole's writing.

Is this the funniest story ever written? I wouldn't say so. The absurdity of the situations and the quirky characters were indeed funny. But in the end A Confederacy of Dunces was more a tiring and boring read for me, rather than a humorous one. The good parts were thrown aside by the fact that I didn't care about the characters and the story.

A Confederacy of Dunces was a disappointing read for me. My expectations were pretty high and I'm sad that I almost thought about dropping it. Although I feel this way about this novel, I'd urge you to take a chance with it, as this is a book that either you'll love it or you'll hate it. 

So, my advice is...

Spin Fortuna's Wheel with Ignatius!  


  1. I love the honesty of this post. Great review <3


    1. Thank you! I always try to speak my mind, no matter what book I might be reviewing :)

  2. Quirky character and absurd situations sounds like a great combo for this one

    1. It should be enough, right? But I just couldn't get into it..

  3. Comedy for comedy's sake isn't always the best. For me the best comedy is mixed with something else, even if that something else takes a back seat to the comedy. Somehow a story, even a comedy, doesn't feel like a story unless the characters develop and circumstances change. 'Confederacy of Dunces' doesn't sound like my particular brand of humour but I think I'd still like to check it out at some point, just to see how well executed the comedy is.

    1. It's critically acclaimed and I really was curious, I've heard so many things about it! I'm glad that I read it, but I don't think that I'll feel the need to reread it.


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