Adventures in Reading

Fiction: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

“You be lookin’ pretty junky with a Night of Joy broom stickin out your ass,” Jones said very slowly. “Night of Joy broom old, they good and splintery.”

The Pulitzer Prize-Winning A Confederacy of Dunces existed in my peripheral vision for some years. At some point I must have read the introduction and learned that John Kennedy Toole committed suicide and some years later his mother plagued a professor at a local college to take a look at her son’s manuscript. If we celebrate Mother’s Day for no other reason than to celebrate Mrs. Toole’s efforts it is a worthwhile holiday. Before I proceed, I confess that nothing I can say will do this book nearly enough justice.

A co-worker persuaded me into picking up the novel and I downed it over a few days full of snorts, guffaws, and raucous laughter as I shared inappropriate quotes with anyone in hearing distance. A Confederacy of Dunces follows an amusing entourage of New Orleans inhabitants and perhaps most remarkably Ignatius Reilly. Ignatius is a delightful result of the world of academy and has returned to the common people of New Orleans. A Confederacy of Dunces pursues Reilly through the echelons of the city as he seeks employment ranging from file clerk to hotdog vendor. Along the way he attempts various radical liberation movements to unsettle his New York City girlfriend Myrna Minkoff.

Toole’s title was taken from a Jonathan Swift quote: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

While reading A Confederacy of Dunces it continually put me in mind of classics such as Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, and of course Joyce’s Ulysses. All great adventure novels with the central idea of a man pursuing life and various philosophical ideas. Toole’s New Orleans is as meaningful as Joyce’s Dublin. Toole’s novel covers such a breath of material but still remains a hilarious and energetic read. I seldom say this, but truly, A Confederacy of Dunces is a book everyone ought to read.

Conclusion: A definite keeper.



Great review! I’ve been wanting to read this book and now I really really want to. I think my husband would like this book too. Thanks!

Comment by Amanda

This is one of my all-time favourite books! I’m glad you enjoyed it so much :)

And what happened to Toole is so heartbreaking. The world lost a genius. Not too long ago I read The Neon Bible, a novel he wrote at age 16, and while not nearly as brilliant as A Confederacy of Dunces, it’s well worth reading. And it’s extremely impressive for something a sixteen-year-old wrote and probably never looked at again.

Comment by Nymeth

I read this a while ago and I absolutely loved it. One always wonders if he’d still be alive if he’d been able to get it published before his death. I do wish they’d do something about the cover though. The combination of those colors always makes it look dated.

Comment by J.S. Peyton

Amanda: This is a definite recommend I now give to everyone. You and your husband should read it together! You’ll spend the rest of your lives quoting it back and forth. ;)

Nymeth: Even though I only just finished it, I’m already thinking about rereading it. Thanks for the heads up on the Neon Bible – I’ll have to see what I can find.

J.S. Peyton: The cover is definitely rough. I was fortune enough to find an older, hardback copy at the used store.

Comment by bookchronicle

Hot dogs, ladies?

Comment by RH

RH: The hot dogs are brilliant! and only better because I used to work at a hot dog vendor myself.

Comment by bookchronicle

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