What I'm Reading: A Confederacy of Dunces

Thursday, November 20, 2014


I would describe A Confederacy of Dunces as the adult version of Amelia Bedelia.  It centers around a larger-than-life character (Ignatius Reilly) and the barrage of crazy episodes that he gets himself into and the strange people he meets from different walks of life.  The plot doesn't really matter, which is at once annoying (a more nuanced and developed plot could have made this a tighter and more satisfying book), but also really freeing.  A Confederacy of Dunces invites you to step into its world, to be absorbed into 1960s New Orleans life, and to simply enjoy the series of ridiculous events as they unfold.

A Confederacy of Dunces definitely tickled my funny bone, and it is one of the best truly funny books that I have read.  As annoying and over-the-top as Ignatius is, he is such a well-drawn, fully flushed out, and ridiculous character that I couldn't help but laugh at him.  I loved his pseudo academic/philosophical musings, his rigid sense of justice and firm belief in his own infallibility, and his seemingly utter detachment from reality.  I particularly loved moments when he got close to something approximating rationality, but would then run in the opposite direction, looking for subtler (read: implausible) explanations for simple and obvious predicaments.  His writings, both to others and those he eventually intended to publish, were hilarious, with their frequent tangents, verbose tone, delusional quality, and snide remarks.  I would never want to meet Ignatius, but reading about him was pretty funny. 

I particularly enjoyed how A Confederacy of Dunces brought together such a wide range of  characters, each a fully realized individual with a hilarious personality.  Some of my favorites include Miss Trixie, Ignatius' elderly, feisty, and clearly senile one-time coworker, Mancuso, the downtrodden police officer who is forced to dress in costume while on duty, Dorian Greene, a gay man who finds Ignatius equally fascinating and ridicule-inducing, Mr. and Mrs. Levy, a husband and wife who are always at each other's throats and trying to blackmail one another, and Dr. Talc, a professor at Tulane who inspires Ignatius' ire and prompts him to draft a series of disapproving letters, all signed by "Zorro" and delivered as paper airplanes through Dr. Talc's office window.  A Confederacy of Dunces is kind of like a sitcom, with characters who feel completely real but also totally ridiculous, some boarding on insane.

If you are looking for an engaging and silly read, A Confederacy of Dunces is a solid choice.  I'd recommend checking out the audiobook because the narrator does an excellent job capturing each character's particular accent.

Four out of five stars.    

4 comments:

  1. Your review made me feel like I need to re-read this one! I read it several years back and loved it, and I'm glad it's getting more attention lately.

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    1. I definitely think this one is worth rereading! And I know so many people who are reading it now, it's interesting that it's so popular. I definitely want to read the bio about the author and how the book got published. That whole story is equally fascinating!

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  2. Amelia Bedelia! What a great comparison. Personally the book struck me as a mix of Ulysses and Catch-22, but far more accessible than either and probably funnier to boot. I highly recommend this book. It may be rough around the edges, due in large part to its tragic history, but it is well worth the read (or listen for those Audible fans like myself).

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    1. I think anything is probably more accessible than James Joyce. :) It would have been so interesting to read this book had it gone through a more traditional editing and publication process, though I think its history really adds to the experience of the book itself.

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