Monday, April 13, 2009

Ag_in_TX's review of "A Confederacy of Dunces" (Toole - 1981)

I will start by admitting I had a hard time wading through this book. I think every parent of a college age student would have trouble with this book as it touches on illogical and unfounded fears that, after your child finishes college, they will want to move home and make nothing of themselves!

Putting aside that fear, the protagonist in this story, Ignatius Reilly, is, in my humble opinion, the most unlikeable leading character in just about any book I’ve ever read. Utterly self-centered and slothful, he blames everyone and everything for all misfortune in his life. His mother is a poor creature who schizophrenically swings between doting mother and drill instructor parent.

In fact, all the characters are fraught with shortcomings and flaws that leave you feeling various states of pity, hate and confusion – but often leave you laughing at them.

Instead of giving a synopsis of the book, I will touch on some points that came to me while I read the book.

- Ignatius’ diatribes in his journals were, for me, the hardest parts to read as he waxed melodramatically about a wide range of subjects. I thought, as the book progressed, he was descending into mental illness and his mother’s final actions were warranted.

- How interesting that, in the end, his savior is the one person, the one fixation, that he could focus his energies on throughout the book – his old college “girlfriend”, Myrna Minkoff – but almost always as hatred and anger. As he escaped a trip to the mental hospital (and, frankly, escaped his entire existence, a mental prison he had built himself into), I was left with a sense of relief – relief for him and everybody in New Orleans his life had touched.

- It was interesting that every character in the book was tied up some sort of stasis (Trixie never being able to retire, Levy hating his own company, Mrs. Reilly’s alcoholism) that had gone on for years, and that the entry of Ignatius Reilly (who lived in a most perpetual stasis of his own) was the catalyst that kick started their lives.

- Ignatius’ “valve” – what was that? What is that supposed to be an image of? He thought it a real, physical thing – but was it really his own mental block against the whole world? A true mental illness? There must be some symbolism to the “valve” that I am missing – it was so central to the way he reacted to everything he encountered.

In short, this is a book I almost hated to keep reading but could not put down. Odd? Well, yes. Perhaps I was overcome by a bad case of literary “rubbernecking” – I just had to know what happened next. But in the end, no matter how much I loathed Ignatius J. Reilly, I wanted him to escape – for the sake of everyone involved.


Bybee said...

During and after I read this book, I had the strongest craving for hot dogs. That was almost 6 months ago, and I still want a hot dog at least once a week.

Loved the book...feel that Mr. Toole was done a great disservice by his editor during his lifetime.

Anonymous said...

"... that the entry of Ignatius Reilly (who lived in a most perpetual stasis of his own) was the catalyst that kick started their lives."

Good honest write-up, and perceptive too. Fascinating is your observation about stasis. I missed it but it seems so obvious now. It's about entrapment and freedom, slavery even.

Thank you.

ponk-ken said...

I decided that this was the best book I never read because the author had created a character so terrible it made me hate him and I refused to read any more about him.

Anonymous said...

I'm fairly certain his "valve" was his pyloric valve, which separates the stomach from the small intestine (though I'm sure his valve was also a symbol of some sort).