My original interest in this book was based on the story behind story, rather than the novel itself. John Kennedy Toole wrote this and then became depressed when he couldn’t get it published. After his suicide, his mother repeatedly approached Walker Percy (then a professor at Loyola) and finally convinced him to read it. Thanks to Walker it was eventually published, although 11 years after author’s tragic death. It went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for fiction.
The title comes from Jonathan Swift: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” I really didn’t know what I was getting when I started the audio version (I listen to books during my daily commute), but after that first morning drive I was hooked. Barrett Whitener does a fantastic job of reading, so much so that I’m going to seek him out for future audio books. I’d like to point out, Stephen King (in “On Writing”) says that listening to a book is the best way to experience it and he used to pay his kids a nickel per page to record audio books for him.
I rarely actually laugh out loud, it’s one of my flaws. I know I’d be a happier person if I could belt it out more often so this book probably added a few years to my life. It is hilarious. The main character, poverty stricken Ignatius J. Reilly, is simultaneously a genius and a dunce. He’s a 30-year old loser who lives with his mom and doesn’t work, yet has a command of the English language that rivals a university professor. An early scene in the book where he severely tongue lashes an unsuspecting policeman made my mouth drop open. Who does this guy think he is? He uses words in ways I’d never imagined to berate and humiliate others into leaving him alone. It’s worth reading just to hear Ignatius string together words you would never think could be used to insult a person. If he was on my case, I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry! I honestly think I would sit there encouraging him to keep on me just to hear what might come out of his mouth next!
To him, life is a sham and people are idiots. He spends his days writing his own profound thoughts in notebooks that pile up in bedroom so trashed you’d probably catch an STD just by walking through the door. The action begins when he is forced to go out and find a job and he begins to interact with the other characters of the book. It’s one unbelievable catastrophe after another. Here, Ignatius describes his life efforts…
“I dust a bit…in addition, 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.”
~ Ignatius J. Reilly
Will Ferell was slated to star in a movie based on this novel, but as of yet they have been unable to obtain the rights to do it. That is one show I would LOVE to see.