A Confederacy of Dunces Book Review

A Confederacy of Dunces: Book Review by Tina

5 stars


A Confederacy of Dunces Book Review

A Confederacy of Dunces Review

Ignatius J Reilly. Morbidly obese, slovenly, flatulent, more often than not extremely rude, yet highly educated and articulate, and at constant battle with modern society, its myriad perversions and the people living in it who dare commit “egregious offenses against taste and decency”.

This 30-year-old behemoth lives with his long-suffering mother Irene on Constantinople St, in 1960s New Orleans, unemployed and surviving on Irene’s welfare checks. Which suits him fine as he spends most of his days stuffing himself with cakes washed down with Dr Nut, while writing vectives and essays about his worldview and the disintegration of society.

But things take a turn when Irene plows their 1946 Plymouth into a building and has to raise the money to pay for damages. Ignatius is unceremoniously thrown into the society he loathes so much to find a job and that’s when things spiral downwards.

Whether it’s trying to orchestrate an uprising among the factory workers at Levy Pants or selling Paradise hot-dogs in the salubrious French quarter dressed as a pirate, Ignatius journals his working life and his efforts to make his mark in the world. Many of these schemes don’t come to fruition, much to Ignatius’ exasperation and his mother’s increasingly frayed nerves, until a picture of a naked female philosopher leads Ignatius to believe he has found his intellectual equal and he plots to save her from the grips of her “commercial exploiters” at the not too joyous Night of Joy bar….

 A Confederacy of Dunces Recommendation

Don’t you hate that feeling of disappointment and irritation when you go watch a movie adaptation of a book you’ve read and loved and the filmmakers just kill it for you? With John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, I feel that the author has already made it easy for the scriptwriters to produce what could be one of the best comedies of our time.
This book is considered a great classic in American literature and quite rightly too. Every page reads like a comedy movie script, dense with colorful description and dialogue, and I could see the scenes and characters playing out vividly in my mind as I went through the book.

While some stories are known for their great evocative imagery of a time or landscape, Confederacy is a fantastic work of characterization and a testament to Toole’s facility with the English language, barbed wit and his intellect (he was a high achieving academic at school and at 22, became the youngest professor at Hunter College in New York).

Ignatius is one of the most unique literary characters I have come across and as loathsome as he can be at times, his life is like a slow-motion car crash that you cannot tear your eyes away from and like most anti-heroes, you are still hoping that he comes out alright in the end.

All the other characters in the book – his mother Irene who teeters from hopeless resignation to melodramatic grief over her callous son, to Patrolman Mancuso, who has to suffer his sergeant’s bullying by wearing increasingly absurd costumes while on the beat, and the mercenary proprietress of Night of Joy, Lana Lee – add color to the hilarity of the plot as it unfolds and to the kaleidoscopic landscape that Toole paints of New Orleans in the 1960s.

While I wouldn’t say Confederacy is “heavy-reading”, it is definitely a meaty read – one that you can go back to again and again to pick out more deliciously funny morsels that you may have missed out the first time. All this, however, is tinged with a little sadness knowing that Toole would never know how much enjoyment his work is bringing, as he committed suicide in 1969 at the age of 31 from depression.

So, with the book having been published in 1980, did they ever make a movie of the book? Apparently there have been efforts to do so for the last 30 years with several of comedy’s big names – think John Goodman, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis – as being potential candidates to play Ignatius. But these projects have said to been plagued with problems and never got off the ground. Perhaps it’s best. I wouldn’t want to be disappointed yet again.

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18 thoughts on “A Confederacy of Dunces Book Review

  1. Hi

    Great review! I confess I am more of a movie watcher than a book reader. So I am actually looking forward to the movie (whenever it comes out or if it does -hopefully soon). Great post and excellent website.

    1. Hi UWAIS
      Yes, I have to say if they did make a movie of this book, I can totally see Zach Galifianakis play Ignatius!
      Thanks for your comment and drop by again.

  2. Hi Tina,

    This is a very good review and I love the way you write!

    This site is coming along very well and I am looking forward to seeing your progress. Keep it up!

    1. Hi Rashaad
      I’m very flattered by your compliments! You and everyone else have been very positive about the website too, which is all Dinh’s and Arlene’s hard work. I just read and occasionally jot down my rantings and they are kind enough to publish it! I hope this review has enticed you enough to try the book if you haven’t read it already. Thanks for dropping by.
      All the best,

  3. YES! I completely dislike when movies ruin the best books I’ve ever read!!!!
    I’m afraid to see the movie “Shantaram” due to this very fact. I don’t think I’ve seen one adaptation that I enjoyed .. the imagination is always better!
    The review of this book, A Confederacy of Dunces, is very well done.
    I am a book lover myself and I can appreciate a well-written review.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Meherbani. I read there were problems getting Shantaram the movie off the ground. Do you think it will actually make it to the screen? Johnny Depp was supposed to play Lin but he’s apparently not now. Maybe just as well – you’d have to either put up with one of his dodgy accents or see Lin become American instead Australian. Oh dear.
      Take care and Happy New Year!

  4. Hello, Tina. This sounds like a book I would like to read. It also sounds like some of the movies I like to watch, every time I watch again there is something I missed the other times. Really good review, thanks!

    1. Hi Peggy,
      Thanks for your comment. I just found out that while there hasn’t been a movie made of this book, they managed to produce a play and it first opened in Boston in November and ran for a month. The reviews weren’t bad at all: http://variety.com/2015/legit/reviews/confederacy-of-dunces-review-nick-offerman-1201644861/
      I actually agree with the choice of actor who plays Ignatius (Nick Offerman from Parks & Recreation, who can make me laugh without opening his mouth) and I think that’s half the battle won in making a decent adaption of a book.
      So maybe we might see “A Confederacy…” on the silver screen some time soon after all!
      Take care.

  5. Hi Tina, I truly enjoyed reading your review – you have a beautiful style of writing. Sounds like an interesting book, although humour is not a category I would ever search in for my next great read. Having said that, I may give this one a try. I would imagine if they tried to adapt this for the big screen they would ruin the essence of it.

    1. You’re too kind, Hindy!
      I don’t intentionally seek humorous books to be honest. But it’s always good to have an escape outlet and enjoy a few good belly laughs when reading a book – even if it’s in the middle of a crowded commuter train! Do give this book a try. If anything, it’s great for quotes!
      Thanks for regularly dropping by. We appreciate your comments.
      All the best,

  6. From your review, I feel I will enjoy reading this as well so it is on my list now! I like how you say this is a “meaty” read – that is exactly how I like my reading – I love savoring and cherishing every brilliant moment. Can’t believe that the author became a professor when he was 22?? Wow!

    1. I know right?! I hate these ridiculously talented people. But seriously, Toole did seem like a tortured soul. A Confederacy of Dunces had been rejected a few times and that sent him spiraling down into that depression that finally led to his suicide. If only he knew how popular his book would become. Oh well.
      I’m sure you’d enjoy the book, Shaz. Thanks for dropping by.

  7. Hi Tina,
    Thanks for the great review. I heard about this book and everyone who read it had one thing in common “how the hell is he alive?”. Ignatius is so absurd that you would wonder how he gets to 30 without getting killed or ended up in prison. Besides him, other people are real, and we see them every day in our life. Do you think he can exist in real life?

    1. Well, Jagulba, that’s what fiction is about, I guess. Stretching the truth enough to make a good yarn but still making it believable enough so readers can relate to the story. I read that the author had based Ignatius on his college professor friend who looked and had the mannerisms of Ignatius, and the things that happen in the story is also based on the author’s personal experiences or anecdotes he heard from others.

      I’m sure we’ve met a few “characters” in our time and if we were to extract all the quirks and kookiness from each one and put them all together into one person, we’d end up with a walking disaster like Ignatius – don’t you think?!
      Thanks for dropping by and feel free to discuss the story further!

    1. So true, Michal. I am a bit of a purist when it comes to adapting books for the screen. DON’T even get me started on Game of Thrones!! I’ve stopped watching that TV show because it’s departed so far from the original book. Blasphemy.
      There are a few rare exceptions where I have enjoyed the films as much as the book and one is The Lord of the Rings (NOT the Hobbit though!).
      I can stay on ranting about this subject but best not to or I’d start sounding like Ignatius! Glad you enjoyed the review.

    1. Hi Susan
      Thanks for dropping by. I’d say both: there are lots of slapstick moments but the language is very witty and the descriptions of Ignatius have made me hoot with laughter several times! Hope you enjoy it.

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