The hero of John Kennedy Toole's incomparable, Pulitzer Prize-winning comic classic is one Ignatius J. Reilly, "huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter". His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans' lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures.
©1980 Thelma D. Toole; (P)1997 Blackstone Audiobooks
"Barrett Whitener strikes just the right note." (AudioFile)
"A Confederacy of Dunces has been reviewed almost everywhere, and every reviewer has loved it. For once, everyone is right." (Rolling Stone)
"What a delight, what a roaring, rollicking, footstomping wonder this book is! I laughed until my sides ached, and then I laughed on." (Chicago Sun-Times)
This is one of those special books, a book rejected by dozens of publishers, a book that led its author to suicide, a book that might bring you to tears (of joy) in the end. It is a character study of an almost middle aged man, still living with his mother, who's just about ready to get a job in an elaborately quirky 1970's New Orleans, told with all the sophistication an over-educated author could muster. It's a really funny piece of fiction that just so happens to be intertwined with real life tragedy.
There are several different versions of this spoken book. None of them compares to the Barrett Whitener reading. Whitener interprets the sounds of the literal dialects seemingly with ease. And this makes the book a million times more enjoyable to listen to. Audible has taken some time to offer this particular reading on its website, several years in fact. But the quality of this recording makes the wait worth while.
Reading the reviews, it's obvious that not everyone gets satire. That's not a measure of intelligence, it's just like rolling your Rs--some people can, and some people can't.
This is satire. It's not funny like Jim Carey or Robin Williams or Howard Stern. It's funny like Stephen Colbert (without the political bent). You have to implicitly grasp that the characters, even the narrative, are saying one thing while meaning another.
The story is about a series of characters in New Orleans in the 60s, who are all affected by the main character, Ignatius J Reilly, and his ridiculous delusional arrogance. There seems to be little point or direction through most of the novel. Few if any of the characters are constantly endearing, and you find yourself wondering if they are aggressors, or victims, or ultimately whether there is any such thing as either. But down to the last line, the story has heart and meaning.
Throughout the main narrative you are constantly aware of minor themes accompanying the main story, some in rhythm, some following their own beat, but all connected. You will read one scene and understand, without the author mentioning it, how that scene affects everything else. It's a breathtaking example of novel writing.
And the narrator is perfect. He catches every nuance.
If you are looking for slapstick or straightforward humor, this book won't be for you. If you love satire, this is one of the best examples you'll find.
My first reaction to this book was that I did not like it. The characters were unlovable and hard to get to know, and the narrator's style of reading somewhat annoyed me.
But that was only in the beginning.
About half an hour into the book I began to love each character's multiple flaws. From one catastrophe to the next, I grew to love everything about the characters and the precarious situations in which they were always a part. The narrator's voice also began to grow on me, as I relized that his voice, tone, and inflection were perfect for the development of the characters.
From Ignatius' "Oh my GOD!" to Jones' "Whoa!" to Ignatius' Mother's "He doesn't love me...", this fantastic tragicomedy is sure to get your attention and keep it.
Overall, I loved this book. If you aren't thrilled with it in the beginning, don't worry. Give it a chance and Mr. Toole's masterpiece will prove itself.
I will definitely be listening to this book again and again.
It is interesting to look at the earlier reviews – I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so many 1-star and 5-star ratings attached to the same book. That seems to mean that “Confederacy of Dunces” is either going to grab you or repulse you.
After reading the book with great enjoyment, I was skeptical about listening to it: the characters all have a distinct voice in my mind, and I thought it would be hard for a narrator to pull it off well. I was very pleased with this rendition. I am a native Midwesterner and know very little about New Orleans. Those who are familiar with it in these reviews seem to have differing opinions about the accuracy of the accents, but from an outside perspective, the variety of voices and dialects and the nuances needed to bring out the characters’ personalities were all handled beautifully.
I think the comparison between Ignatius and Don Quixote is a good one – they are both creations of genius with no real antecedents, insane by most standards, but profoundly poignant representations of the people many of us are afraid we may be – people who don’t quite fit into the world we live in. Maybe it is those who feel like we are floating along in a ship of fools (or a confederacy of dunces) who appreciate the book more.
I got it. I got the humor, I got what the author was trying to say. I just didn't like it. I appreciate the writing and the cleverness that made this a Pulitzer Prize winner. I'm giving it three stars because I recognize that it's well-written and would appeal to those with a taste for picaresque characters in farcical situations, and truthfully, there were a few parts that made me laugh. But being primarily a reader of genre fiction, a book like this with no real plot and no character growth just doesn't appeal to me. For literary fiction, A Confederacy of Dunces has the virtue of being unpretentious -- it's designed to entertain you, not move you or make you think Deep Thoughts. But it didn't hit my funny-bone enough to overcome my loathing for the characters.
That said, I listened to the audio version narrated by Barrett Whitener, and I highly recommend it. I can't imagine a more perfect audio portrayal of Ignatius, and he did a wonderful job with all the other characters as well. Honestly, I think the book would have been a lot less funny without his narration.
I first read this book in paperback 20 years ago and couldn't wait for the unabridged version to come to Audible.
I had forgotten many details of the story, but I knew that the key to enjoying this book would be in the narration. This book is such a swirling stew of outrageous characters, no mere mortal could attempt to commit it to the spoken word.
Barrett Whitener was up to the challenge.
As a son of the South, I have a keen ear for Northern or Midwestern interlopers who attempt the patterns of Southern speech. Adding to my suspicion was the unique brogue of New Orleans required to authentically portray these characters.
Mr. Whitener started slowly. His portrayal of the complex, bombastic Ignatius J. Reilly was sputtering and stilted in the first two chapters. But then he began to find his stride with Ignatius and soon began adding extra flavor to the many quirky, hillarious characters that make this book what it always has been - an American original.
Partner one of the best books, comedic or otherwise, ever written with stellar narration and you have the most entertaining audiobooks I have ever heard. The book has always been one of my favorites; this is the fourth time I have read it. This audio edition rivals my first reading due to the engaging reading. Pure joy!
I've always loved this story, but the narration had me pulling my hair out after the first twenty minutes. The jokes are timed clumsily, the accents are awkward, and the pacing is off. Like Ignatius himself, this book rolls along with its own peculiar momentum, but this narration trips up at every turn. I waited a long time for this to appear on Audible; now that it has, I'm very disappointed. Please, please, powers that be, bring this wonderful book around again on Fortune's wheel and give it a new narration the second time around!
It's probably one of the top "listens" you'll find. The language, characters, pace of the writing could very well make you want to read the book after you listen to it. It's pure genius. The narrator deserves an industry award for his performance. What can make this experience even better is finding someone else who has listened to the book so you can compare notes.
"When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign: that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
- Jonathan Swift
'Confederacy' is one of my top-5 favorite books - both in print and audio. I just finished my second 'listen', and am amazed at the book's ability to make me laugh and wince in equal measure. To those who have tried this book but put it down unfinished, give it another chance. It is meant to be experienced in a visceral way, much like New Orleans itself. Someone once said that upon returning home to NO, he had to find a bowl of great Red Beans & Rice and eat it right away, to get back into the funk of his town. Ignatius Riley is part of that funk, with his troublesome valve, inexorably obese body, and unbelievably overwhelming hubris.
Mr. Whitener is spot-on in his narration. He truly brings Ignatius to life, is great with the supporting cast of characters, and the ironic tone of his Narrator is perfect.
If only the Coen brothers would get the movie rights, and cast Philip Seymour Hoffman as Ignatius, my world would be complete. Surely their combined genius would please even the dimmest confederacy of dunces.
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