A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

January 21, 2014

confederacy of dunces Plot summary (from the publisher): Awarded the Pulitzer Prize, A Confederacy of Dunces was not published until a decade after the death of the author. This wildly inventive and amusing novel features one of the most unforgettable characters in modern fiction: Ignatius Reilly. He’s a mammoth misfit Medievalist hilariously at odds with the world of the twentieth century, and his adventures take him to ‘way down, to New Orleans’ lower depths.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • The writing was just brilliant. For me, most of the book’s humor came from the language employed by Ignatius rather than the absurd situations he created. Everything Ignatius said was delivered in elevated, pretentious language that hardly fit the circumstances. For example, if someone brushed against his arm, he would cry out, “I have been physically assaulted and am in need of immediate medical attention” or some such nonsense. These proclamations had me laughing out loud most of the time.
  • The characters were just so, so memorable. Not only Ignatius J. Riley, but also Jones and his constant could of smoke and smart-ass remarks about the minimum wage; the nagging mother with her wine bottle in the oven; Miss Trixie and her views on retirement and Easter hams; the “sodomite” Dorian Greene (ha!); and of course the unseen-until-the-end minx Myrna Minkoff. Oftentimes in a book with a strong protagonist, the story suffers when the author veers off and pays attention to other characters. That didn’t happen here because all the characters were great.
  • Some of the visual imagery was fantastic. I don’t automatically equate “absurd” with “funny,” but the idea of Ignatius pushing a hot dog cart through the French Quarter while dressed in a pirate costume complete with rattling saber had me rolling!


  • Well, perhaps it’s unfair to expect anything else in a book like this, but I wasn’t a fan of the rambling plot — and especially, of the ending (Ignatius driving off into the sunset with Myrna after barely escaping being committed to a mental hospital). Then again, where else could Toole possibly have gone with this?


After a somewhat slow start, A Confederacy of Dunces turned out to be an excellent adventure. I enjoyed spending time with Ignatius J. Reilly and appreciated learning about his particular worldview (which, according to the character himself, was largely formed by Boethius and The Consolation of Philosophy). I’m sure that I’ll end up reading this book again in the future to see if there were things I didn’t pick up on the first time around. For now, I give this one 4 stars out of 5.

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