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Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Reader's Diary #2139 - John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces


It's been 9 years since I visited New Orleans and believe it or not that's when I picked up my copy of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces in a local secondhand bookstore. Believe it or not, this is how long it's taken me to finally get around to it. I'm not sure what prompted me now. Maybe something about the bizarre upheaval and uprising of idiots south of the border?

In any case, having visited the city helped me envision some of the locals, especially the French Quarter. More interesting, to me at least, is that it reminded me of some other New Orleans books I've read. In particular the way Toole seemed to keep adding to his cast of characters, vastly different yet similarly troubled, reminded me of Amanda Boyden's excellent Babylon Rolling. I wonder if this is common in New Orleans literature and if so, if it's a reflection on the diversity in the city.

It also reminded me a lot of Mordecai Richler's writing. The humour, a satirical volume-turning look at society complete with despicable characters has Richler written all over it. I was a little nervous going into the book as I'd heard mixed reactions from library patrons who'd read it and the ones that stuck out to me were along the lines of "this is supposed to be funny?" I should have remembered that humour is subjective and yes, Toole's brand of cynical humour is indeed up my alley. I'd go as far as saying cynicism is a central theme of the book. It's a cynical look at cynicism. Brilliant.

Of course, there could be more serious takeaways as well and one of the more serious angles I wished had occurred to me earlier in the book was the idea that the central character, Ignatius J. Reilly, may be an example of an incel, even long before there was such a term. 

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