Sn New Orleans in the 1960s, John Kennedy Toole’s comic novel follows the fortunes of 30-year-old Ignatius J Reilly, a flattering and neglectful medieval scholar who still lives with his mother, Irene. Reilly is unemployed and spends most of his days cooped up in his bedroom, either contemplating (rarely writing) his literary opus or masturbating, using the memory of a long-dead pet collie to put him in the atmosphere.
Toole, who committed suicide in 1969 at the age of 31, wrote A Confederacy of Dunces while doing national service in Puerto Rico in the early 1960s. The book was rejected by successive publishers, including Robert Gottlieb who, in a letter to the author, wrote that it was “a brilliant exercise in invention… [but] it’s really nothing”. After Toole’s death, his mother, Thelma, found the manuscript and decided to have it published. It finally came out in 1980, became a bestseller, and won Toole a Pulitzer Prize.
Comedic narrator Reginald D Hunter breathes new life into a cast of reprobate characters: cantankerous Claude Robichaux, who believes everyone is a communist; the stupid police officer, Mancuso, who is the butt of all the jokes in his station; and the foolish Irene, who seeks solace in the wine she keeps hidden in the stove. But nothing compares to the pompous, booming Ignatius, always speaking out against a world he feels has lost its values while neglecting its own idleness. Asked by Mancuso about his lack of employment, he replies haughtily, “When my brain starts to waver from my literary works, I make a cheese dip once in a while.”
A confederation of dunces is available via Penguin Audio, 12h 58min
Run towards danger
Sarah Polley, WF howeseven56hmin
The actor, screenwriter and director tells a series of autobiographical essays about illness, grief and the trauma of starring in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen at the age of eight.
Jesse Burton, Macmillan, 1153hmin
This tale about a reclusive novelist and her young amanuensis, from the author of The Miniaturist, is read by actor Hayley Atwell.