Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Confederacy of DuncesA Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three and a half stars.

This novel reads as if Moby Dick were written by the staff at Mad magazine or the National Lampoon. The whale in this case is Ignatius Reilly, an obese, slobbering, slovenly, self-centered, uncouth, pretentious, over-indulged, utterly incapable, clueless, ne'er-do-well and unemployable buffoon. A verbose Bluto (from Animal House) with a degree in medieval philosophy, a walking disaster zone who talks like an Oxford Don, if you can imagine that. The action reminded me of the 1972 Barbara Streisand - Ryan O'Neal comedy of errors What's Up Doc? a film in which an initial miscue triggers a series of other mishaps and misunderstandings affecting a variety of characters tangentially connected, including Ignatius, his long-suffering mother, an incompetent police officer, the owner of a pants manufacturer, a strip-bar owner and her black employee. The New Orleans setting is fittingly over-the-top for this kind of social satire of American excess and vain overindulgence, where the crazies are running the insane asylum. Favourite parts were Ignatius's masochistic penchant for rushing to see movies he knows are pure shlock. He relishes chortling at the overdone, trashiest parts and hurling insults at the screen, just as we can't help ourselves from flocking to the theatres to consume the over-hyped substandard cultural garbage that supports the entertainment industry. Although there are plenty of laughs the reader detects a pervasive underlying seriousness and sadness. Where this novel lacked was with Ignatius himself, who is so pathetic as to be unsympathetic, and whose lack of evolution can not be forgiven. The tone of underlying sadness comes from the fact that the author committed suicide over a decade prior to the novel's publication and it's impossible not to read the novel as his helpless plea to be rescued from himself, which is exactly what happens to Ignatius in the end. There is no redemption, only excuses, and the goddess Fortuna driving the bus to hell.

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