Some of you may be thinking: "I've never heard of this movie." Well that's because it's not a movie, but a book. I've decided to temporarily stray from movie reviews to write my thoughts on John Kennedy Toole's novel A Confederacy of Dunces.
The novel tells of the exploits of Ignatius J. Reilly, an educated idealist, yet socially inept and incredibly lazy man of 30 years who lives with his mother, Irene, in New Orleans. After Irene incurs a large amount of debt after a drunk driving debacle, she forces Ignatius to get a job after a lifetime of unemployment. To say that he doesn't succeed in the professional industry is a mammoth of an understatement.
I first attempted to read this book in eighth grade after a recommendation from a teacher. I'm not sure if I got more than 40 pages in the first time around. I stumbled upon the novel recently when I was cleaning out my bookshelf, and, assuming that my reading skills had not yet reached their full potential at fourteen, decided to give it another shot. However, as I began to read, I found, once again, that I was not fond of A Confederacy of Dunces. The story seemed scattered, and worst of all, the protagonist was just about the most obnoxious character ever written into fiction. In fact, none of the characters stuck me as likeable. But, unlike my eighth grade self, I stuck with the book this time, and ended up loving it.
The mistake I had made when I began A Confederacy of Dunces was to assume that I should read it like I would read any other novel. I was trying too hard to analyze the protagonist, to establish his goals or to relate to him in some way. Instead, you really just have to take it at face value, to see the gestalt, so to speak. Only then can you see not only the humor but the serious themes and questions brought up by this novel. For example, the overarching conflict is the contentious relationship between mother and son. Ignatius always criticizes Irene, but never moves out of the house. Similarly, Irene is disgusted with Ignatius' habits, yet caters to his every need. Toole also suggests a correlation between intellectualism and isolation.
The novel really clicked for me a little past the halfway point, when I envisioned what it would be like as a film. I think movies can get away with having a disagreeable and pompous protagonist like Ignatius much better than a novel, if not only due to the difference in duration. Ignatius Reilly would be much easier to handle for two hours that he is in the time it takes to read the 400 page novel. The characters and setting are portrayed very colorfully, and would translate wonderfully into a film. I pictured it like the movie version of Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, quirky and highly stylized. This would mimic the almost overly caricatured characters.
Toole's novel is over the top in almost every sense. But that's what a picaresque novel is, much like Tom Jones or Don Quixote. A Confederacy of Dunces is a witty and profound satire that grows on you slowly: you think you dislike it until you realize how excited you are to read about Ignatius' next undertaking.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars