When I saw an audio version available for download from my library, I went all self-indulgent for the re-read. I first read it in the summer of 2008, and wrote about it on a long ago blog:
“Last fall, in New Orleans with some co-workers, we were sitting around saying how glad we were to be back in town. My employer runs plenty of meetings in the city, and most of us love it. I was talking to my friend John, who is a great reader (even if his preferences happen to run in a Clancyish direction), and he asked if I had read A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. He was all shocked and dismayed and told me that I must read it immediately because I will love it. I had not realized that it was set in New Orleans.
The title comes from a quote by Jonathan Swift (now pasted on my sidebar):
When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him.
So I loved it before I read the first chapter.
The main character, Ignatius Reilly, is described by a Tribune reviewer as “huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter.”
In the first chapter, Reilly is a total ass, particularly to his mother – and we are meant to feel sorry for her. When she rams her car into some guy’s foundation, Reilly is forced to go to work for the first time to pay for the damages. Reilly has a graduate degree, but has never worked. Seems to be some sort of obsessive-compulsive writer.
So we follow Reilly on his adventures. And start to like him more. I mean the guy is nuts, but a total riot. And his mother seems more and more obnoxious by comparison. Funny thing: Reilly notes that he is forced to work because his mother had an accident DUI, which is totally true. Seems less sympathetic than when the accident first happened.
As Reilly goes from one crazy adventure to the next, the comparison to Don Quixote makes rather more sense. And the climax to conclusion had me totally rooting for him.
Perhaps because by the end of the novel, I was thinking that Reilly is not too terribly far gone from some of the geeks I know. In a kind of “There but by the grace of God” sort of way.
I was even pleased with the ending, which is saying something. We learn in the introduction that this book was published posthumously. Toole committed suicude and his mother saw it through to publish. Left me with an eerie question of just how autobiographical this may have been.
Whatever. Great book.”
It was even better the second time around.