Review, thoughts, notes on A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Narrated by: Barrett Whitener
Length: 13 hrs and 32 mins
Release date: 12-26-04

This book.  Wow.  Just wow.

Its hilarious, in a dark, absurd, preposterous way.

Check out other reviews or listen to a sample here

Time Period & Setting

The book is set in New Orleans in the 1950s and there’s a few key things that set the scene  – the time period (level of technology, level of education, level of expectations), the black-white tensions still dying down in the air, and the gay quarter in town.
Supposedly this book is one of the most detailed representations of New Orleans at the time, however I don’t really think that’s important to the story.

What it’s about

Essentially it’s about a 30 something, rather strange man that’s been living at home with his mum and who eventually has to go out and get a job.

He’s an intelligent man with a master’s degree, which with the book being set in the 1950’s in New Orleans, this is a very impressive level of education… yet, there’s something off about the man.

At the start of the book, you wonder if he’s not just an obnoxious man for all of his bellowing of responses, his constant exclamations about his valve (some sort of stomach valve), the way he treats his mother, his world view etc.
But then you start to think that perhaps this man has some sort of mental illness that hasn’t been diagnosed due to the time period.

The main character is Ignacious, a green hunting cap wearing great tub of lard of a man, who… is more than a little strange, self-centred and… yes, obnoxious.  But it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how his character is.

The story highlights several interesting points –
– That it seems everyone is stupid for some aspect,
– That many people’s stupidity is self-defeating,
– People’s over embellishment of self to seem more important as they feel they are in competition with others,
– That sometimes dumb luck can lead to an overwhelming positive result,

-That despite how normal a bad situation is, you can still stand up for yourself, distance people that are bringing you down, and make a positive change in your life.

-That even though you expect these obnoxious people to be punished for their incredulous behaviour they sometimes don’t and simply find their way to their next location to start anew and never learn any lessons… constantly bringing grief & suffering to those they come in contact with.

There’s more for sure, but that’s obviously up for you to figure out.

Comedy

It’s funny.

The character development happens over a long time, the story sets the scene over a long period of time… in fact about 50% of the book is pretty much introducing characters in various settings, getting glimpses of quirkiness and then….

And then… the next 50% of the book begins a dark, preposterous, absurd kind of humour where everything that is uttered from any of the characters ends up being pretty funny.

Not that it would be funny in itself, but funny in its absurdity relevant to the scenes built up.

Movie?

As it turns out, apparently there was meant to be a movie made from the book.

https://www.ign.com/articles/2003/06/25/photos-staged-reading-of-a-confederacy-of-dunces

And … in the movie, Will Ferrel was meant to play Ignacious.

Since reading this information, I feel like the book became more funny. As I can really imagine Will Ferrel doing the character justice.

All of the absurd things he says, the interactions between the characters… it would truly be great.

Mos Def and Drew Barrymore were also doing screen readings.  This would have been amazing.

The scene of Ignacious coming into Dorian Greene’s (the well-off gay guy) apartment is hilarious. The interaction with Timmy the sailor who has been chained to the wall and wants a bit of BDSM, to be slapped is very funny.
Dorian doesn’t want to give it to him and instead calls him a slut…. Ignacious doesn’t realise it’s a game / fetish and slaps him around just to get him to shut up. I can really image will ferrel playing this role.

I feel like some of Will Ferrel’s acting style came from the reading of this character

Narration

The narration is incredible.  He really brings to life all of the characters, with all the weird mannerisms that each one has.

Recommendation

The author John Kennedy Toole received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for the writing of this book, after he committed suicide shortly after writing it, yet not having it published.

It’s a massive shame.

I understand that many that have read it, read it because of the award.

But I would say don’t pay attention to that too much.  Yes, its award worthy… but its more the absurdity of the characters which warrants the read.

It IS a relatively slow book though, and for those that like stuff to happen… well, this is probably not your kind of book.  This book focuses on the difference in characters, the development and the lessons you can take away from it.. all in a story, that while on the surface might seem uneventful, actually has so many things happening.

Its funny (2nd 50%) in that dark, absurd humour kind of way; it’s entertaining; the narrator is incredible and I would really recommend this book.

Notes taken

Ever thought to yourself, I feel like most of the world is full of stupid people…I wonder what they do with their lives?

Or that people may be educated, … as in they’ve gone through some form of lengthy education….yet you feel that it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re intelligent.

Well this book seems to present a world exactly like that, just with a slight bit more of pronouncement.

You are left wondering, is that person obnoxious or has he actually got something wrong with his head?
Like….is he actually mentally handicapped in some way?  Or does he have an undiagnosed mental illness?

Is that person over there a simpleton? Does he not understand his particular social situation and why does he not act accordingly?

Why does the owner of the bar always complain about there not being enough customers, but constantly waters down drinks and swears by bad business practice?

Are some people ready to make up any excuse to find fault in something?
And are others willing to happily ignore every insult and criticism to the point of their own detriment?

Why are there people like this?
How do they survive their everyday lives? What do they fill their day with?
How do they think?  If they’re that stupid or simple, do they still have any worries?

This book it seems, …through a simple story….to demonstrate all of this.

Perhaps people really ARE mentally deficient in some way?
Perhaps everyone is a little bit stupid in their own way?
Perhaps you REALLY ARE the only one with their head screwed in straight. But then….How do others look at you?
All a matter of perspective perhaps.

The lady / classmate/ girlfriend from New York sounds like a very smart woman, but maybe she’s just as messed up as Ignacious but in her own way.

That the main character Ignacious.
Actually thinks exactly this (that everyone is stupid) of the people around him as well.

And in fact most people seem to think this of everyone else.

Him talking about if he was a ‘negro’ is reasonably interesting.

As he has isolated himself through choice, he can kind of get their isolation yet through ostracization.

He sees some kind of freedom in their situation at the time, being that there’s no point having ambition to move upward because of the limitations placed on them by the whites.

“Minera is very sincere, unfortunately…she is also offensive.”  (the lady from New York)

The main character seems to think that the world revolves around him.

He seems to think everyone else is stupid, and they seem to think he is – everyone being stupid in their own way.

The absolute stupid and aggravating conversations that people get into is bewildering.

Stupid people feeding off stupid people, some because they think they’re doing bad things on purpose…and wanting them to do bad things. Yet in fact they’re just shit at something positive they’re trying to do.

Like Jo the black guy thinking about Darlene’s parrot / bird act on stage. He thinks she’s doing a kind of sabotage, in fact she’s just crap at her dancing act.

Or other people thinking Ignacious is smart and will lead them to revolution just because at certain times he sounds smart or at least sounds like he knows what’s going on more than them.

Yet…. In fact he’s just as stupid and detrimental to himself and others as anyone else.

Ignacio getting crappy jobs despite having a master’s degree and being well educated.

I think it also shows that some people take pleasure in being offended yet don’t seem to figure out that their own words are offensive in return or at the start.

Also shows the embellishment of ones title via correspondence. As everything seems to be a competition.
“How are you doing?”
“I am working now in the food industry and therefore may not have time to reply to your letters.”    (He’s actually working as a hotdog street vender)

Also in the case of Mrs Leevy.

It seems some people wish to embellish the noble intentions of a situation and place lofty ideals on the actors of such situations, all based on hearsay and without truly understand the actuality of the situation or knowing the persons carefully this lacking the context as to WHY or intent in which those actions were made.

In essence, they will read into a situation, whether that be positive or negative depending in their predetermined thoughts on the issue and hold those actions up an noble ideology despite never trying to get to the bottom/ reality of the situation. Nor wanting to take action themselves.

Many people will take many courses and take many hobbies yet never truly understand any of them.
Mrs Leevy with her psychology correspondence course and failing it completely.

I’ve said it before, but I believe what makes something funny, is the absurdity of it.

There is a reality….And then there is absurdity within that reality that makes us take pause and think….That doesn’t belong…Surely that’s not meant to be there.

For this book we live in our own reality, were not from new Orleans, and we’re not from the 1950s or 1960s which is the timeframe of this book and when it was written. However we do like to imagine we have some assembled of how it was.

Yet this book paints the picture of massive absurdity, that everyone in the book is stupid in their own way.

The only character I could relate to in some small measure and found funny…Not due to absurdity was Gus Leevy (the owner of Leevy pants factory) when he was explaining the fact that Miss Trixie is senile, got bored of her asking to go to the bathroom and having to tell her which was male and female and instead decided to let her decide, with him taking bets against himself for which one she would choose. Ultimately the odds being about 50 50.

Yet all the rest…Is absurd. Not to a massive level, but just enough to make you reflect in your own situation , take notes as to how his might apply in your life….And hopefully take lessons from it.

A mother that with all the love she pours out to her previous son, she’s now blinded by pride to how much he’s actually incompetent, and has some sort of social interaction problem or something. Instead she just sees him as intelligent and educated and all the horrible ways he treated her, she just ignores. …For the most part.

Mr Roubachoue (the old man) just keeps calling everyone communists.

Hilarious. Not really laugh out loud funny, but in the context of the story and it’s just so stated… Just oh yeah, but of course they’re communists, as if that will solve all the questions.

The description of what Ignacious did with his day working for the hotdog franchise.

‘Taking notes at the wharf, and then of course the afternoon was taken up with the cat.’

His use of the English language to convey what seems like a completely different story, referring to the cat as a prostitute and him having to wrestle it.
He’s just wasting his life. It’s crazy
Absurd, and yet…. Because of all of this…it’s just funny.

I think it takes 50 % to begin to find it funny.

The gay guy Dorian green is pretty funny. I’m sure he thinks that Ignacious is mentally insane, yet goes a long with it because it’s an excuse to have a party.  He thinks Ignacious is wearing a costume and finds his obesity funny and the fact that he’s out on even more weight even more funny.

The gay guy organises a party because Ignacious tells him to make a political party.

The gay guy and Mr Leevy are my 2 most likeable characters.

Peace through global gay orgies  – according to Ignacious.
Haha wow.

I would kind of like to see the movie with Will Ferrel, hope it gets made.

He calls everyone degenerates.
Hoped that gay people and transgender people can have representation in government.
Noble of him…In a very weird way.

Mr Zalatino (office worker that takes over after Ignacious is fired) seems like a relatively normal person as well.

Mrs Trixie is senile and batshit crazy.
Taken to biting people.

Fortuna, Greek god of fortune.
Ignacious is constantly praising or admonishing her.

“Oh my gawd”

Ignacious exclamations.

The main character seems totally caught up in his delusions.

Ignacious pretending to be an English gentlemen on the phone to Gus Leevy.
He actually sounds sane when he’s putting in a voice, a persona.

With his pen pal they mutually like to insult each other, and eagerly await each other’s correspondence as a chance to be insulted and have ammunition to insult the other.

It’s truly hilarious in a bonkers way.

I can’t help but think Will Ferrell based a lot of his characters on this main character or absorbed traits of Ignacious for his characters since 2004.

Ignacious has blue and yellow eyes. … Somehow.

The scene of Ignacious coming into Dorian Greene’s apartment is hilarious. The interaction with Timmy the sailor who has been chained to the wall and wants a bit of BDSM , to be slapped is hilarious Dorian doesn’t want to give it to him and instead calls him a slut…. Ignacious doesn’t realise it’s a game / fetish and slaps him around just to get him to shut up. I can really image will ferrel playing this role.

Turns out he wears a Mikey Mouse watch.

And from some part in the story a hooped earring.

Those that believe in karma should read this book.
It just shows that people who act like dicks or are obnoxious get that in return.
No ‘karma ‘ necessary.

Everything he says he bellows.

He’s always threatening to sue everyone who belittles him in some way.
Kind of reminds me of Trump in that way.

“Hot dog vendors had an image problem already, without one of them passing out outside a whorehouse”

“Under developed testicles”

Jo has that “jive” way of talking.   Heyy whoooa.

Oooh weeee. That ‘cat’. (referring to a person)

“Had that poor cook really been proud of Leevy Pants? That was one indication of his insanity”

Probably the first book I’ve listened to where he narration is really fast. I could understand in this case of people would what to use the speed functions to slow it down a tad.

All of this before mental illness was declared a thing.

“Oh my valve!!!”

Spoiler: (highlight to view)

In the end, you assume he’s going to go to the mental institution, but in fact he just escapes only to carry on his antics somewhere else, and unintentionally screw up another group of people’s lives. 

He has learnt no lesson, and yet the lesson that we learn is that unless we stand up for ourselves to a person like that… it’s possible that nothing may happen, and that due to our inaction, that person will constantly go on to screw over other people.  Sometimes those kind of people need to be put in their place, otherwise things might turn out worse that they are now.

(This is the meaning I took from it… but others could have got something different)

The fact that the book doesn’t end with the way you would presume it would, or perhaps should have in real life… is hilarious. 
The guy is out there.
And in some way, we all know people like that… maybe not to that level, but people that bullshit their way to success, that insult everyone around them and make other’s lives incredibly more difficult, are destructive, but learn zero lessons and just keep doing it.

Funny in a story, not so funny when you realise that it mirrors real life.