This is a brilliant novel, but one I found it difficult to enjoy. The title, appropriately for a parody of America’s deep south in the 1960s, comes from master satirist Jonathan Swift and is a perfect description of the book.
The author has assembled a cast of grotesques, from aged crones to spoilt housewives, and failed flatfoot policemen to a stripper with a pet cockatoo amongst others. You have to keep reading just to see what horrors will come out of their mouths and what stupid things they’ll do next. Add in the fecund atmosphere of a New Orleans summer and this is humour of the blackest kind, with scarcely anyone except the black guy Jones to have any sympathy for whatsoever.
But overshadowing all of these characters is the gargantuan 30 year old figure of Ignatius J. Reilly – the most foul, flatulent, obese, workshy, total snob, and yet strangely eloquent anti-hero I’ve ever met. Together with his overprotective, dipso mother Irene, who never stops talking, they make a right pair. Then there is Ignatius’ absentee sort-of girlfriend Myrna, who’s a militant but still looking for the right revolution, whom he corresponds with copiously. In her letters she winds him up even more, so as you can see Ignatius is an accident waiting to happen.
The problems really start when Ignatius’ mother backs her old car into a balcony bringing a bill for damage that means her boy will have to go out to work. Ignatius’ idea of work is rather different to anyone else’s though, and very soon he’s causing mayhem wherever he goes with his personal work ethic of doing as little as possible – he just carries on with his pet projects and tries to ignore or get rid of anything that might make him do any graft for anyone else unless it fits in with his personal ends. He fails at one office job which is to have big consequences, then he becomes a hot-dog vendor (well eater rather than vendor!), and again things go disastrously wrong, yet somehow we stay with him all the way to the end.
What makes this book doubly black is that the author committed suicide in 1969 after he couldn’t get the book published. His mother kept up the campaign and it was finally published in 1980 going on to win the Pulitzer prize posthumously.
In summary, CoD is an influential book that I’m glad I’ve read, but will probably not pick up again.
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
A Confederacy of Dunces (Penguin Modern Classics) by John Kennedy Toole.