A Confederacy of Dunces

I’ve put off reading this book for about 5 years.  I’ve always known it was critically acclaimed, and I’ve always known it was a “one-of-a-kind,” novel, but for some reason it had never really called to me.

A week before I decided to read it, I came across it twice – once in an article about Underrated Novels, which named Skippy Dies as one, describing it “for fans of A Confederacy of Dunces.”   Another article listed A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole as one of the “50 Coolest Books Ever.

Well, I loved Skippy Dies, and forget that A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981 – it was listed as one of the 50 Coolest Books Ever! If that’s not a good enough reason to read a book, I don’t know what is!

The title of the novel comes from a Jonathan Swift quote “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

That seemingly innocent sentence is enough to give you a sense of what kind of novel A Confederacy of Dunces is and the kind of characters you will encounter along the way.

The “genius” in this case, is the novel’s protagonist, (I’d like to think of him as an anti-hero) Ignatius J. Reilly, a highly educated, lazy, philosophical slob, and staunch defender of religion, morality and decency; and the dunces, presumably the other flamboyant, hilarious characters around him that make up this strangely comic, and highly entertaining book.

Set in New Orleans, and the colorful French Quarter, the novel presents a particularly trying time in Ignatius’ life: looking for and keeping a job after being involved in an incident with his mother, in the beginning of the novel. This seemingly routine and boring task of looking for a job turns into something of a (mis)adventure for Ignatius, who wreaks havoc where ever he goes.

A Confederacy of Dunces is chockfull of quirky characters in varying degrees of eccentricity and strangeness, and Ignatius Reilly, has, without a doubt, one of the most annoying personalities in fiction.  His opinions and behavior throughout the novel are consistently appalling and annoying, and that is exactly what makes this book so entertaining and readable.

Thirty-year-old, obese Ignatius J. Reilly is so un-cool that he’s actually cool.


A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

Grove Weidenfeld, 405 pages

Personal Rating:  4/5

10 thoughts on “A Confederacy of Dunces

  1. One of the few books that have made me laugh so hard I had to put it down and roll around on the floor (the bit where’s he forcing the workers to protest with his soileded sheet as a banner, for one…)

    Apparently John Belushi had optioned this and was planning to play Ignatius. So, somewhere up in heaven…

    • John Belushi would have been perfect! There were so many laugh-out-loud parts – that part you mentioned, and I loved the part with Dorian Greene. He was actually my favorite character.

      A crazy, crazy novel with equally crazy characters 🙂

      At first I was reminded of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.

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