The terrible fact of author John Kennedy Toole's suicide looms large over the book. It was published 11 years after he killed himself, apparently devastated by his failure to publish his work. Having read the book, you get the feeling though, that he might have had some appreciation of the grim irony of the fact that it went on to be a literary comedy classic.
My friend Truff had highly recommended it to me. It is, of course, also namechecked in the fantastic Sideways movie, by the main character, the failing writer who identifies with Toole.
I liked the book but did not love it, although you have to love Ignatius J Reilly, who is unarguably one of literature's great comic characters. I think, though, that it was the plot which I had a problem with - it did not pull me through enough. The characterisation of Igantius is great but, I don't know, he does become a little predictably horrible. It is funny, but not hilarious.
I laboured with the plot a bit in the middle of the book but I did enjoy the ending. I like the final lines about him kissing his friend's pigtale with his wet moustache, which just sounds outrageously unpleasant. I liked the stuff about Ignatius keeping his wordy journals and filling countless big tablet pads with his pseudish writings. I like to think it also evoked New Orleans well. Apparently people dress up as Ignatius and he is quite well known down there in the French Quarter. I can see how people could fall in love with the character - the problematic valve, the hat ... the unspeakable glove.
And yet I don't really think there was much in there that really stirred my soul (unlike, say the great New York Times's piece by Anne Rice about the city following Katrina). It will be interesting to see if I think about the book over the coming days. I do though feel a little glad to be released from it and from Igantius's sweaty paw.