Friday, December 31, 2010

193 (2010 #58). Ignatius Rising

by Rene Pol Nevils & Deborah George Hardy

Subtitled "The Life of John Kennedy Toole," I read this book to learn more about the author of A Confederacy of Dunces. The authors have produced a thorough biography of John Kennedy Toole, with 24 photographs and reproductions of a cartoon by Toole and numerous letters to or from him or his narcissistic mother, Thelma, as well as correspondence by others.

One can see some parallels between Toole and Ignatius J. Reilly, the main character of his book.  It's rathereerie how Toole became more like Ignatius, after writing the book in the early 60s, before his suicide in 1969 at age 32.  The authors speculate that Toole may have been a closet homosexual, and imply this, plus financial difficulties, plus the rejection of his book, may have led to mental illness.  His overbearing mother (whose perseverance in getting his book published posthumously was both annoying and admirable) and weak father probably didn't help.

The most fascinating part of the book are the letters between Toole and Robert Gottlieb of Simon and Schuster, the first (and only) publisher where Toole submitted his manuscript.  In a long letter to Gottlieb after the latter's initial rejection (with encouragement) of the book, Toole says (on page 138),   "The book is not autobiography; neither is it altogether invention. . . . I am not in the book; I've never pretended to be. But I am writing about things that I know, and in recounting these, it's difficult not to feel them."  

Based on the seven pages of  "Notes on Sources" at the end of their book, it appears Nevils and Hardy did a lot of research.  The numerous interviews they did as well as the photographs and correspondence included in the book help bring Toole to life.  I would have liked to see a somewhat more scholarly approach, with footnotes/endnotes (to better see where and how the authors draw some of their conclusions), a bibliography, an index, and a table of contents.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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