Early this week, I added A Confederacy of Dunces to my Read List, but wasn’t quite ready to form an opinion. I think my big roadblock was that, based on what I knew about the book, the author, his mother’s struggle to see it published (not to mention the glowing accolades from just about every living critic), I felt that it was mandatory I adore each & every detail.
From beginning to end, my constant opinion of the protagonist (Ignatius J. Reilly) was ‘good CHRIST, this is a repugnant human being without one single, solitary redeeming quality.’ And, when I’d finished reading, I let that opinion cloud my opinion of the story in its entirety.
I realize, now (after letting my thoughts bounce around my skull for a few days), that what I felt for the main character wasn’t how I felt about the rest of the novel at all. Ignatius is supposed to be loathsome. An over-educated, slothful, hygienically challenged… well – arsehole of a human being who is abusive & cruel to his over-the-top, self-martyring mother is hardly a character worthy of any warm fuzzies. But he’s not supposed to be.
John Kennedy Toole’s point in creating Ignatius (at least, in my opinion) was to give us a character who is a delight to hate. And I, honestly, don’t remember the last time I encountered a fictional being quite so deliciously despicable.
The slovenly, eccentric & delusional Ignatius lives at home with his mother in 1960s New Orleans. At 30 he remains unemployed – with no desire or intent to become otherwise – and is convinced that the rest of mankind is of far inferior intellect & is unknowingly drowning in a cesspool of sin & debauchery.
When a minor fender bender forces Ignatius to find employment, the ensuing escapades, situations & characters with whom he becomes involved, weave a farcical romp of absurdity that really is suited to the Big Screen.
In fact several interpretations – with such rumoured attachments as Harold Ramis, John Belushi, Chris Farley, John Candy, Steven Fry, Steven Soderbergh & Will Ferrell – have reportedly been started and, subsequently, scrapped.
It’s a shame Toole only ever wrote two novels (he, tragically, took his own life in 1969.) Both were published posthumously due, in no small part, to his mother’s tireless efforts.
The Neon Bible (his first written & second published) is now on my endlessly expanding To Read list – if for no other reason than to see what the 16-year-old Toole’s writing chops were like. And I hope that, if an afterlife does exist, Toole has been made aware of how much his work is appreciated.