Versus: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

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

Sean O’Faolain: ‘Write about what you know’ is usually the first advice given to any aspiring writer and it was certainly followed by John Kennedy Toole when he wrote A Confederacy of Dunces. Toole was a native of New Orleans with a Masters in English and mother issues. The main character of this book, Ignatius J. Reilly, is also from New Orleans, has a Masters in English and mother issues. Confederacy is one of only two books Toole wrote. It was published in 1981, 12 years after his death, and won a Pulitzer Prize.

Reilly is also loud, sanctimonious, dishonest, cowardly and convinced of his own superiority, in short, he’s one of the least appealing main characters I’ve ever come across. His actions spark a story which rattles around New Orleans some time in the early 1960s (when the novel was written) taking in a former prostitute turned bar owner, a wannabe stripper, a bored businessman and his resentful wife, a black guy who meets his oppression with wisecracks, a put-upon police officer and Reilly’s long-suffering mother among many others.

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