Posts Tagged ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’

If I remember rightly, I first heard about this book not long ago by reading a Cracked.com article about supposedly cursed films. John Candy was to have played the main character, Ignatius J Reilly, but he died; Will Ferrell was down for the role, but it didn’t come to fruition. When visiting my friend Lawrence recently, I saw that he had a box of books outside his door and he invited Habiba and me to help ourselves. One of the books I took was A Confederacy of Dunces (Great Apes and Grimus were the other two).

The story concerns the aforementioned Ignatius Reilly, an obese thirty-year-old man who lives with his mother in New Orleans. He is a larger than life character. He lives in something of a fantasy world in which he is an unappreciated genius bent on bringing order and enlightenment to the dunces that surround him. He is obsessed with Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiae and even more obsessed with the state of his pyloric valve (a part of the body that controls the flow of food from the stomach to the small intestine). When he is nearly arrested one day and his mother crashes the car into a neighbour’s wall, a chain of events is set in motion that culminates with men in white coats coming to take him away to a mental hospital.

A Confederacy of Dunces is considered a comedy masterpiece. It’s certainly funny in many places – occasionally, laugh out loud funny – but the main attraction is the gloriously grotesque protagonist and his struggles against the world. That said, the supporting cast of characters add much to the novel, as well. Patrolman Mancuso, the hapless police officer who fails to arrest Ignatius at the start because he gets heckled by an old man, is punished by his sergeant by having to put on a different fancy dress every day and go and bring in a ‘suspicious character’. The conflict between a trouser factory owner, his mercilessly bitchy wife and the doddering old secretary whose only desire is to retire but who can’t because the owner’s wife has adopted her as a project and believes only work keeps her going is also a fun one to watch unfold.

Two things are impressive about the writing: one is the variety and credibility of the voices employed; the other is how the various plot threads are kept on the boil for much of the novel and come together at the end. Ignatius employs the bombast of a firebrand preacher or an eccentric professor; his mother is cut from different cloth and has a Southern, working class accent; Jones, the sassy but put-upon janitor of a club drawls with a distinctly black lilt. All these characters and more muddle through the story, unknowingly the puppets of the chaos Ignatius leaves in his wake.

While Ignatius J Reilly – his appearance and personality – is described in uncompromising terms – he has a bloated head and body, his moustache is full of crumbs, his voluminous trousers swaddle him in stale air, he loves to go to the movies and loudly decry the moral outrages he identifies on the screen, he harangues anyone he takes issue with (which is most people) – and while he is clearly severely deluded, he somehow comes out of the story with a sort of tragic nobility. He is very likeably very unlikeable. When the hospital ambulance comes for him, you want him to get escape and continue wreaking madness on the world.

In the end, A Confederacy of Dunces is not that funny – in large part because of the grotesqueness and pathos of the characters – but it is mesmerising and Ignatius’s antics are always entertaining.

Read Full Post »