Monday, April 22, 2013

Reflections: A Confederacy of Dunces

Ignatius J. Reilley is an eccentric idealist. Highly educated, extremely opinionated, completely frustrated and disillusioned with the ways of society, he lives with his mother, watches juvenile TV shows, criticizes every kind of movie that comes out, and records his intellectual musings in his notebook. In short, he leads a life that is devoid of responsibilities of any kind until one day his mother’s little accident forces him to find a job to scrape together some money. With that begins a series of (mis) adventures that are as funny as they are frustrating as Ignatius fumbles across events with misplaced idealism and obtuseness. Ignatius’s adventures take on more color and absurdity in the backdrop of New Orleans in the 1960s. With rich descriptions of unique characters and situations, the book offers an uncomfortable glance into the life of a socially unadjusted character that evokes humor mostly at his expense.

This is a Pulitzer Prize winning book that is often described as a hilarious read. I wish I had read the book to verify that claim. I listened to the audiobook, and in this case, it seemed like listening to subtle and sarcastic humor that was meant for reading made a difference to the overall experience. While the narrator was great at delivering the distinct New Orleans’s dialect and in giving voice to the different characters, especially the deep booming voice of Ignatius, his monotonous narration fell  flat for me and the humor didn’t come through as much. It is tricky to convey subtle humor through narration. Also, some of the characters took the same “voice”, so it was a little confusing at times, especially given the similarities in the slang and accent. As an aside, the Southern American accent is one of my least favorite accents because I need to concentrate real hard to parse through their unique syntax and semantics. So it was tiring and mildly annoying to hear the repeated “Whoa”s and “Wowee”s. This is just a pet-peeve of mine, and doesn’t indicate anything more serious.

So, all that said about the narration failing to deliver some of the humor, some passages did get some chuckles out of me. However, as Ignatius repeatedly creates chaos, at a certain point in the book, the humor is lost, because the humor is often at the expense of Ignatius, and the reader is heavily aware of the undercurrent of pity, frustration, and mild sadness couched within the sarcasm. I think as unique as Ignatius’s character is, most of us have probably come across a similar persona in real life. They are pseudo-intellectuals who are well educated, but don’t have the right kind of mental framework or substance to live out their idealistic views/opinions that are sometimes radically different from others. But, that doesn’t deter them from holding onto their stubborn views. They therefore become social misfits, and their frustration deepens to the extent that they begin to shun society and morph into ever more difficult and intractable people. They cease to be “normal” and always stand by the wayside of standard societal dictates. Such personalities are frustrating to me, not funny. I feel sorry for them, but at the same time, I also feel sorry for those that lose their peace and happiness over them. Other “normal” people’s reaction and treatment of such individuals is judgmental and foolish too, of course.  So, the whole thing just leads to loops within loops of frustrations involving flawed, imperfect people directing their ill-informed judgements on each other. The author has portrayed all of this through a comedic approach, a dark comedy of sorts, because the author himself committed suicide after writing this book.  It seemed like he poured all his bitterness and sarcastic observations into this story. Tragic isn’t it?

A person who is incredibly frustrating in real life can be represented as an endearing, or at the very least, sympathetic character in literature/movies in terms of how they are portrayed and developed. The writing rendered Ignatius as a frustrating and unsympathetic character.

So, all in all, this is a book that is not going to stay with me. It is memorable in its own way, of course, because Ignatius is a unique character. But, I can’t say I enjoyed the book or appreciated the humor. I did appreciate the novelty of the story and the implied social commentary. But this view may be biased because of listening to the book as opposed to reading it.

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