Book blog

1000 before 30 #41: A confederacy of dunces — John Kennedy Toole

I’ve got two words on why you should read this book: MY VALVE.

Ignatious J. Reilly is one of the most complex, hilarious, bizarre and annoying characters in the world. And he’s just one of the amazing moving parts that is in ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’, in which Reilly is arrested by Patrolman Mancuso, who then arrests an old man Claudio, who later goes out with Reilley’s mother Irene, who then makes friends with Mancuso’s aunt Santa Bataglia.

Reilly is made to go to work after a drunken night at a dive in the city (run by a stingy woman called Lana Lee) caused his mother to crash their car against a wall and to be sued for not having any insurance.

It’s the set-up to a disaster, where he ends up being fired for unwittingly starting a workers’ revolution and resorts to pushing a weenie cart (and eating most of the goods).

At one point while pushing his card, Reilly turns into a perverse, unreasonable Don Quixote, bent on getting one over on his nemesis-girlfriend Myrna Minkoff (who is a sex obsessed maniac).

“Between notes, he had contemplated means of destroying Myrna Minkoff but had reached no satisfactory conclusion. His most promising scheme had involved getting a book on munitions from the library, constructing a bomb, and mailing it in plain paper to Myrna. Then he remembered that his library card had been revoked.”

Genuine tears of joy ran down my face at some points of the story, especially when he went off on rants to Myrna that sounded eerily like some of the deranged comments from any day of the week in the comments section of the Guardian. Every time he mentioned his ‘valve’- which alternated between relaxing and closing off completely – I was close to howling with laughter.

“I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”

It’s not all fun and games, as the message from the book is about sacrifice and how sometimes someone can be too smart (and frankly Ignatius needed street smarts far more than anything else). It’s the most intelligently narrated version of a situation that spirals out of control and into absurdity, with each of the characters somehow making it worse.

In the foreword of the book, it is revealed that John Kennedy Toole’s mother brought the manuscript to the publisher after his death, insisting that it was really good. Unable to deter her, he took a look. Boy, am I glad that happened. I know I’ve said it before, but just thinking about this book puts a huge smile on my face, and it has entered the coveted mental shelf of books to take with me to the ends of the earth.

Favorite quotes: “Claude is dumb. Okay. I’ll grant you that. Claude is all the time worrying me about them comuniss. Okay. Maybe he don’t know nothing about politics. But I ain’t worried about politics. I’m worried about dying half-way decent. Claude can be a nice person, and that’s more than you can do with all your politics and all your graduating smart. For everything nice I ever done for you, I just get kicked around. I want to be treated nice by somebody before I die. You learnt everything, Ignatius, except how to be a human being.”

“Oh, Fortuna, you capricious sprite!”


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