Reviewed by Monique Prince, Undergraduate Services Librarian
This fascinating novel proves that you don't have to like the characters in order to like a book. A Confederacy of Dunces is highly comedic in its gross caricatures of New Orleans citizens. The main character is Ignatius Reilly, an obnoxious, obese freeloader who, though a middle-aged man, still lives at home with his equally unlikable alcoholic mother. Ignatius imagines himself to be a philosopher and reformer, so when he is forced to get a job, he attempts to galvanize workers to complain about workplace conditions (he names this campaign a "Crusade for Moorish Dignity"). When this plan goes awry and he is fired, he gets a job as a hot dog street vendor where he eats many more hot dogs than he sells and again fails in his revolutionary attempts. He eventually must flee the city to avoid being committed to an asylum.
The story behind this book's publication is as interesting as the novel itself. John Kennedy Toole failed to have it published, and committed suicide in 1969. For the next several years, his mother's attempts to find a publisher was unsuccessful until she insisted on showing it to Walker Percy (The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman) who was teaching at Loyola in New Orleans. Although he was reluctant to read it, he was quickly convinced that it should be published and sent it to Louisiana State University Press. When it was published in 1980, it became an immediate success, both literary and commercial, and even won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981.