If anyone told you to pick up A Confederacy of Dunces, throw everything and obey them. A laugh riot in novel form, the book is a magnum opus for the avid reader with a flair for all things comical. John Kennedy Toole will leave you in splits, despite the lingering feel of a simmering wound under all that laughter. The epicentre of all the comic action is the anti-hero, Ignatius Reilly. He is obnoxious, a hypochondriac, an unassuming philosopher with a proclivity for blunt and blatant lying. Clumsy, sticking out like a sore thumb and absolutely impossible, Reilly makes you want to hold onto the book for posterity.
Set in the eighties, A Confederacy of Dunces is as relevant and realistic in its subtle poignancy and lumbering comic value today. Within a few pages, it becomes apparent that the book truly deserved the Pulitzer it earned – the only difficult-to-digest reality underlying the book being Toole’s suicide. Reilly is typically the kind of person you would love to hate to love, as he stands out as an anomaly, and isn’t the least bit apologetic about it.
The story traces the life and times of Ignatius Reilly. A flatulent, clumsy person indoctrinated in his own inclinations towards Boethius and his philosophy, the tale chronicles his many trials at different work places. Devoid of a sense of work ethic, Reilly cuts to the chase with incomparable tale-spinning, self-spun ideologies and philosophies that guide his initiatives. He starts off at Levy Pants, where he desperately tries to lead a workers’ revolt, only to watch it crumble before him while he stands clueless atop a table looking for support. He then joins a hot dog vendor, winding up eating more than a fair share of the hot dogs himself, while painting ridiculous portraits of purported tales for why the hot dogs went missing. Add to the mix a mother that is terribly concerned about her son and his “communis” inclinations, a hapless and henpecked police officer who is vested with the charge of hunting Reilly down, a felonious jivecat replete with dark-glasses and a quintessential meme-line of his own, a love interest who is often seen questioning Reilly’s sexual obsessions and issues, and a bunch of other ludicrous puppets that offer you gags like nothing before.
What sets the book apart as worthy of a read is not the story line or the classy linear feel to the narrative – but rather, the inventive quality that explodes in a fugue of laughter. There are subtle overtones of loyalist tributes to the likes of Dickens and Swift – but Toole holds his own in a way that makes you cry for the lack of faith he had in his own work. Easily a remarkable read without demanding too much from your side, Confederacy is a bookshelf keepsake.