When Famous Novels Meet, or Don’t Meet, Expectations

In 2011, I wrote a blog post about whether famous novels I belatedly read after many years met the pent-up “great expectations” I brought to them. I covered books such as Beloved, Don Quixote, East of Eden, Ivanhoe, and The Age of Innocence.

I thought I’d revisit that theme by discussing some famous novels I finally got to since then. I’ll start with The Outsiders (which I finished last week) and also mention (alphabetically by title) A Confederacy of Dunces, Doctor Zhivago, Ethan Frome, Fahrenheit 451, Gorky Park, Of Human Bondage, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Rabbit, Run, Silas Marner, The Big Sleep, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, The Last of the Mohicans, The Portrait of a Lady, The Secret History, The Stranger, and Villette.

The Outsiders (1967) is a modern young-adult classic, so I figured it would be pretty good. But S.E. Hinton wrote it while still a teen (as she was in the above photo), so I figured it wouldn’t be THAT good. I was wrong. It’s very well written, features a number of compelling characters, and has lots to say about youth angst, friendship, dysfunctional families, peer pressure, class divisions, and more. I was impressed.

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces? A weird book, but funny as hell — with quirky, eccentric characters and lots of New Orleans ambience. Worth waiting for.

I found Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago sweeping, romantic, and sad. Didn’t totally love it, but liked it a lot.

Ethan Frome is different than some other Edith Wharton books in featuring non-rich characters in Massachusetts rather than wealthy ones in New York City. It’s a downbeat novella that packs a feverish, emotional wallop.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 deserves its reputation as one of the most memorable dystopian novels.

Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park is a thriller that delivers in all kinds of ways — tense plot, great protagonists, great villains, excellent Russian atmosphere. Plus it spawned seven sequels nearly as good.

Of Human Bondage was W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece — and that’s saying a lot, because he wrote a number of terrific novels. It mostly lives up to the hype, though one does wonder how protagonist Philip could stay in love for so long with a character as unlikable as Mildred.

One Hundred Years of Solitude? A tour de force by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that deserves its reputation as one of the 20th century’s best novels, though it’s sometimes a bit confusing to read.

John Updike’s writing in Rabbit, Run can’t be questioned, but I found the protagonist Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom to be grating and sexist enough to not really enjoy the novel as much as I would’ve liked.

George Eliot’s Silas Marner has a reputation in some quarters as a tedious read, but I found it wonderful and heartwarming. And so short for an Eliot novel that it’s a very good introduction to that fabulous author for people wanting to try her work.

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep? Lived up to its reputation for excellent, noirish, hardboiled crime fiction. And Humphrey Bogart was born to play private eye Philip Marlowe in the movie version.

Leo Tolstoy’s melancholy The Death of Ivan Ilyich is one of several examples of how that author rocked the novella in addition to lengthy books such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

The Last of the Mohicans is James Fenimore Cooper’s best-known novel, and it’s quite good, but I have to rate The Deerslayer (of the same “Leatherstocking” series) higher.

Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady doesn’t disappoint — a sublime, poignant work written before the author got a little too dense and wordy with some of his late classics.

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is impressive for a debut novel, but it at times feels a bit too insular and contrived as it focuses on a small group of obsessive college students. I much prefer Tartt’s later The Goldfinch.

Albert Camus’ The Stranger is often mesmerizing, occasionally unsatisfying, and quite unusual.

Finally, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette has a number of riveting moments while also dragging in spots. The author’s earlier Jane Eyre is a much more compulsive read, and it probably didn’t help that Charlotte was depressed by the deaths of sisters Emily and Anne while writing Villette.

Your reactions to some famous novels when you finally got around to reading them? Did they meet, or not meet, your expectations?

Ray Bradbury mentioning Fahrenheit 451 on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life game show in 1956:

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — a too-much-rain-inspired satire — is here.

69 thoughts on “When Famous Novels Meet, or Don’t Meet, Expectations

    • Thank you, crystalwende! Probably a long shot that we’re related. I’m not related to any famous Astor; that name started in my family when my paternal grandfather came to the U.S. He either chose that name or had it assigned to him at Ellis Island. 🙂


  1. I owe it to myself and Henry James to go back and try again, but when I do, it will not be to return to either “The Wings of the Dove” or “The American Scene”, at least until I have more of his hopefully more accessible, earlier works under my belt. I have loved reading James by the sentence, even in these later efforts, but by the page I cannot always make sense of the man. I blame myself– but not entirely.

    Not coincidentally, or ironically, I find “”The Turn of the Screw to be about the most perfect ghost story rooted in the real and/or a meticulous description of mental collapse. In the age when James wrote it, there was so much popular interest and participation in spiritualism, I find it remarkable he could address the phenomenon without speaking its name, or making overt pronouncements. The delicacy of his success in this sort of straddling between camps is obvious when one sees “The Innocents” movie starring Deborah Kerr. A teardrop falls, and ambiguity flies out the window.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! I hear you about Henry James. His late-career works (also including “The Ambassadors”) are impressive in their way, but I’m more a fan of his early and mid-career works — “The Portrait of a Lady,” “Washington Square,” “The Aspern Papers,” “The American”…

      I must confess to not being a fan of “The Turn of the Screw” when I read it long ago — in high school or college, I think. Just TOO low-key and subtle for my tastes back then, but maybe I would feel differently now if I tried it again.


      • Thank you, bebe, for posting the story my older daughter co-wrote! Much appreciated! 🙂

        Yes, truth often seems stranger than fiction in recent years. A novelist making up today’s sorry group of Republican leaders (Trump, McConnell, etc.) wouldn’t be believed.

        And you make a great point about Senators (and House members and governors and mayors) who are running for President not having much time to do the jobs they were elected to do.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It is most of all, I think, a measure of the desperate times that produced the candidate– but consider Abraham Lincoln, a man elected to Congress only once, and was then defeated for his second term. Eleven years later, he was president, having held no elective office in between.

        Perhaps this bit of history is where Beto finds his viability– but I’ve never found Mr. O’Rourke comparable to Mr. Lincoln in any other way.

        This primary season reminds me of an Ernest Tubb story. He said he thought he had the sort of singing voice that would make a fellow by the jukebox turn to his date and say ‘heck, I could sing better than that.’ “And you know what?, said E. Tubb, “he’s right!”

        Trump’s performance in office has established such a low bar that anybody thinks they could do a better job. And you know what? They’re right.

        Liked by 2 people

        • That’s a great point, jhNY. The bar is indeed as low as it can go, and Trump was elected not only despite his meanness, ignorance, etc., but without any history of elected office or military service.

          O’Rourke is an interesting case. With Ted Cruz as his Senate opponent, Beto came off as smart, eloquent, decent, etc. In a Democratic presidential field with several impressive candidates, O’Rourke seems more shallow, entitled, and clueless — basically in over his head.

          Excellent, relevant Tubb anecdote!

          Liked by 1 person

          • A shallow observation, but my own: Beto in action before a crowd reminds me of one of those ‘inflatable air dancers’ (yep, that does seem to be what they’re called) that gesticulate fitfully on a car lot to catch the eyes of passersby. Once I came up with that comparison, I cannot see him another way.

            Wish he’d had the humility to take on the inexorable Cornyn– that’s a contest he might have won.

            Liked by 1 person

          • FYI:

            Ernest Tubb, aka ‘The King of Country Music’ and The Daddy of ’em All’, though fiercely Texan, was a lifelong Democrat, who, unlike too many of his Opry compatriots (I’m looking at you, Roy Acuff!), never forgot who got food and help to folks in need during the Depression.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Yes and they are right !

          I wish John Kerry was running, he is younger than Sanders or Biden. He was defeated by those swift boat lies and we got W and then Iraq war. The war is still going on in Iraq and Afghanistan while we are losing our soldiers, George W Bush is painting the disabled soldiers.
          Move on to 2919 and Democrats have at least 24 candidates who are running for Presidency ,
          In the Primaries we can vote for only one, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is smart , articulate with a brain capable of multitasking. Perfect candidate to be the President .
          But if someone else becomes the nominee I will certainly vote for Her / Him for President.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks, bebe! I think O’Rourke is “toast,” as they say.

            John Kerry was indeed treated horribly by the Republican Party and far right in 2004. They managed to smear a war hero with all their lies and propaganda. He deserved to beat the awful GWB. That said, Kerry ran a weak campaign (I cringed watching him during the debates that year), and I think he’s too centrist for 2019-20.

            Pete Buttigieg is very impressive in several ways — super-smart, as you noted — but part of his record as South Bend mayor bothers me: all that gentrification and his unpopularity among the city’s African-American residents. But, yes, ANY Democrat is light years better than Trump.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I did not know of his unpopularity among the city’s African-American residents , but it is known Mayor Pete is not known much among black voters.
              But I like his calm way of answering to all the insults of trump throws at him, I did watch his interview by Chris Wallace at FOX, my husband will never watch FOX but he did, it is very impressive.
              I like everything about him and as I say I have one chance in the primaries and Mayor Pete will have my vote . VP Biden is way ahead of everyone but that does not mean much as we know Jeb was too, and so was Hillary until the last night…then rest is a horrible lengthy nightmare Dave.

              Liked by 1 person

              • bebe, I agree that Pete Buttigieg is very intelligent and cool under pressure! I’m sure being in the military (unlike draft-dodger Trump) helped with the latter.

                This is the New York Times article that alerted me to his problems with African-American voters:

                Great point about how being ahead in the polls early doesn’t necessarily mean much. A lot of it is name recognition. And there was at least one poll, by CNN, which misleadingly surveyed mostly older voters — giving Biden an edge over candidates (such as Bernie Sanders) with a much larger youth following.

                Liked by 1 person

                • I have seen it but just read it now…sad ..why he did that who knows, still I don`t think Mayor is racist . Also I don`t thing he has any chance still his open criticism of trump is valuable.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • True — he might have been more insensitive than racist in that case; hard to know. And, yes, any mayor (also including NYC’s) is going to a major long shot as a presidential candidate. Still, as you say, all criticism of the atrocious Trump is welcome!

                    Liked by 1 person

  2. HI Dave,

    Two books immediately come to mind, though they’re both probably more highly praised, rather than actually famous. I joined a new book group about a year ago, and they were all raving about “Ready Player One”. However, they’re all also big fans of popular fiction. Of course, there’s absolutely a place for romance and crime fiction, and I rate some popular fiction quite highly, but none of them had even heard of “Crime and Punishment” and it was at about this time that I realised that I’ve become a bit of a book snob. But like I said, EVERYONE was raving about this Ernest Kline book, and I thought how bad can it be if it appeals to men and women, older people and younger people, Australians and people from all sorts of exotic places? So with some trepidation, I went in, and LOVED it. It’s not going to win any literary prizes, but it was so much fun. It’s a dystopian novel, however has lots of ‘80s references, and I wondered if it was simply nostalgia that made me enjoy it, but like I said, people from all different ages got a lot out of it, so it wasn’t just about right time and place.

    About three months ago, Trent Dalton’s “Boy Swallows Universe” seemed to be everywhere. It got great professional reviews, which I don’t normally pay attention to. But then it appeared on a heap of Facebook pages that I follow and there wasn’t a bad word said about it. I wouldn’t normally let a bunch of strangers add to my never-ending TBR, but it was just impossible to ignore. So I placed a reserve at my local library (you can imagine the waiting list!) and finally started it about a week ago. It’s definitely worth all the praise! Despite it being a kind of bleak book at times, I’m having trouble putting it down.

    Anyway, I’m off work today, so have lots and lots of time to on and on, but I’ll try not to do that anymore than I already have!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan! Great that those two books met expectations! I enjoyed your discussions of each. I have both on my to-read list. 🙂

      I’m glad you brought up popular vs. literary fiction (though of course some novels straddle both categories). Readers have different expectations when opening each kind of book — hoping to be entertained vs. hoping for some transcendent depiction of “the human condition.” (I’m obviously simplifying there.)

      Nice to be off work for a day!


      • I’m always complaining about the one dead tree in my next door yard, yet that is where most of the birds go to perch, so there you go. By the way, I’ve had “Ready Player One” sitting on my shelves for a few years now, so perhaps it’s time to dust it off and finally read it. I’ve got so many TBR books that I don’t even know where to start! But it’s time to start reading some if I can only get up the gumption to read again. Now that my mini-reunion is finally over I hope I can get back to reading as well as playing the piano once again!

        Liked by 1 person

        • A worthwhile tree, then! 🙂

          When I went to the library a couple hours ago, I looked for “Ready Player One” but unfortunately it wasn’t there.

          Kat Lit, I also hope you can get back to reading and piano, post-reunion! Arranging a gathering like that is time-consuming, and it hasn’t been that long since you also dealt with a move — which is beyond time-consuming.


      • Thanks Dave, that’s a perfect simplification of literary vs. popular. And of course, it’s not a competition, one isn’t better, or more right. I just know that *generally* I feel more satisfied after reading more literary fiction. Though, the books that have disappointed me the most are probably also literary fiction. I guess there’s a nice place in the middle for popular fiction.

        The day off work was SO nice, until 3am on Thursday when I was wide awake stressing about all the work that I hadn’t done. But I did get through a big chunk of “Boy Swallows Universe” so it was totally worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Totally agree, Sue. Reading literary fiction is often more satisfying, but not always. And it’s great to read both literary and popular fiction, and various genres.

          Yes, being off work has its upside (time for things like reading) and downside (falling behind). The solution might be that time machine Hermione used in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”…


  3. I actually just finished reading “Last of the Mohicans” a few weeks ago. I’d seen the movie way back in the 90s and only just now got around to the book! Such a long reading list you know hahaha. I thought it was a pretty good read as well, but I would really like to check out the rest of that series sometime. I went back and watched the movie again recently too, and I was quite curious as to why they changed so much from the book! Gosh the book is a completely different story I feel like. Then again, the movie is rarely as good as the book so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is true, books do not always meet your expectations, you can be pleasantly surprised, like Elena, or disappointed. I recently read Vilette, but it wasn’t for me. I was definitely disappointed in Doctor Zhivago, although it definitely had its moments. And now you’ve made me curious about Gorky Park!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Dave, last night AMC was showing TKAM..without any commercials. It was awesome have not seen the movie for a long time although I have the DVD. Watched about an hour and half of it.
    Mr. Gregory Peck and all the other actors including the children were so very good , I think it is even better than the Novel itself.

    That brings me to the book Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’ prequel or sequel whatever one would call it. There Mr. Atticus Finch was so disappointing ,racist and what not.It is good that you never read it. It was Ms. Lee`s lawyer got it published to make money for herself I suppose. .
    As we discussed before Boo Radley was not even there but a brother of Finch showed up in the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe! “To Kill a Mockingbird” is SUCH a great movie — including the superb acting, as you noted. I read that it was Gregory Peck’s favorite movie role, and he was in a LOT of films.

      I’ve seen “Go Set a Watchman” a few times on the shelves of my local library, and just can’t bring myself to take it out. I guess I indeed don’t want to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • There have been two books in my life that I pre-ordered because I was greatly looking forward to them. Once was “GSAW”. I think maybe if I’d realised just how much controversy there was around the publication, I may not have done that. The other was “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” which I finished reading two days after it was released. Another one that absolutely lived up to the hype and expectation!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hear you, Susan. I was SO looking forward to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and it totally delivered! (Even if the brief epilogue was a bit clunky.) I also read it very quickly, and it was not a short novel.

        Whether or not the next or final book in a famous series lives up to expectations is definitely a great subcategory of this discussion! You might have been thinking of the TV version of that with the controversial final episode of “Game of Thrones.” 🙂


        • I really liked the epilogue to “Deathly Hallows”. I know a few people thought it felt forced, but I found it a wonderful extension to the ‘real’ ending.

          The less said about the “GoT” finale, the better…

          Liked by 1 person

          • It was certainly interesting to see several of the main characters 19 years later — and the epilogue helped lead to the “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” play. I guess my problem with the epilogue was that it was pretty short and thus felt more like a summary than a compelling chapter.


  6. I think I was most disappointed with “The Bostonians” by Henry James. I was so eager to read it after loving most of his novels, especially “The Portrait of a Lady.” But I think I finally had to give it up after three attempts and finally lost it in one of my flooded basements. I wasn’t sorry at all!

    I also loved watching your clip of Ray Bradbury on Groucho Marx. After spending days watching practically every episode of The Carol Burnett Show, especially those with Tim Conway, it just reminded me even more why those days of comedy were such much better and funnier than those today, in my opinion, of course!.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lit! I haven’t read “The Bostonians,” but sometimes there’s a fine line in Henry James’ work between sublime and a bit boring. For instance, I found “Daisy Miller” and “The Turn of the Screw” somewhat tedious at times, but, like you, loved “The Portrait of a Lady.” I’m also a fan of his “Washington Square,” “The American,” and “The Ambassadors,” among others. Ha — a flood can be welcome for some books. 🙂

      “You Bet Your Life” was indeed VERY funny — I think Groucho was one of the wittiest people who ever lived — and had many great guests, famous and not famous. Glad you’ve been enjoying your Carol Burnett/Tim Conway watching!


      • Yes, I loved Groucho Marx, and he was quite witty. I love watching those old shows as funny and well written. I’m not sorry about not watching those shows like “A Game of Thrones” about rape and incest. Haven’t we gone past that by now? Especially with those shows that seem to be (from what I’ve read) about rape and incest, and shows that seem to be about those things!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I haven’t watched “Game of Thrones” either (I don’t even have cable). I can accept some violence on screen or in novels if it’s germane to the fictional story, but if the HBO series overdoes it, not good. I did read George R.R. Martin’s first “Song of Ice and Fire” novel after several regular commenters here recommended the book series, and eventually got pretty absorbed in it. But I’m not sure I want to read the whole series.


          • I was just watching a show on MSNBC that had on Jeff Daniels who appears on TKAM on Broadway as Atticus Finch and has won great reviews for his performance. It looks like a wonderful show and hope to see it one day if only on DVD.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. I read about half of the Confederacy of dunces last summer, but I had to return it to the library as I renewed it the maximum number of times and it was interlibrary loan. I guess that tells the story about how I felt about the book. Like you, I thought it was very funny but it was hard for me to maintain my interest. I read Anna Karenina fairly recently and loved it. It was fantastic from the first page to the last and I didn’t want it to end. I wonder what’s holding me back from reading War and Peace? I read East if Eden over 39 years ago and it still ranks as one of my favorite Steinbeck novels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Molly! I hear you about how reading a novel slowly can say a lot about what we think of that book. “A Confederacy of Dunces” is indeed hilarious, but uneven — in some way more a series of scenes than a coherent whole. And it didn’t help that the protagonist and most of the other characters are not that likable.

      Well, the length of “War and Peace” is daunting, even as it’s a VERY readable novel!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Some great novels there, Dave!

    Hmmm, in my own case, I was told repeatedly that “What Is To Be Done?” by Chernyshevsky was not any good, but when I actually read it myself I found it to be quite interesting and worth reading! One can’t help but wonder if some of the dislike it inspires is because it’s about female empowerment. So it failed to meet my expectations, but in a good way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Elena! I like the angle you took on this — novels that a reader goes into with not-great expectations, and they turn out to be really good. Glad you liked “What Is To Be Done?”

      Trying to think of books that did that for me. Anne Bronte’s two novels — “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” and “Agnes Grey” — were better than I expected (especially “Tenant”). And Jonathan Franzen’s much-hyped “Freedom” got mixed reviews, but I was impressed with it. Same with J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy.”

      Yes, female empowerment can turn off some sexist, narrow-minded readers and critics.

      Liked by 2 people

    • According to wikipedia, this novel was written in response to Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons.”

      The title was appropriated, but admiringly, by Lenin.

      “It was Vladimir Lenin who found it inspiring (he is said to have read the book five times in one summer) and named a 1902 pamphlet What Is to Be Done?. According to Professor Emeritus of Slavic and Comparative Literature at Stanford Joseph Frank, “Chernyshevsky’s novel, far more than [Karl] Marx’s Capital, supplied the emotional dynamic that eventually went to make the Russian Revolution”.


      I own both the works published under this title, but confess to date,I have read neither– probably the best use of my time would be to lock myself in my apartment and read everything I have intended to read that surrounds me in piles. Heck, until reading your comment, I was under the misimpression that Chernyshevsky’s book was a political argument, not a novel! In any event, I hope to turn myself in its direction soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting, jhNY! I knew that novel title sounded familiar. I read the Lenin book in college, and still might have it on one of my bookshelves somewhere.

        And, yes, we can dream of ways — locking ourselves in our apartments or otherwise — to catch up on reading! 🙂


    • Thank you, Neil! I’m doing fine; hope you are as well.

      I hear you about “East of Eden.” The plot is kind of stylized or something — all those biblical references, etc. But I still found it pretty compelling, and it’s probably my second favorite Steinbeck novel after “The Grapes of Wrath,” one of my favorite books of all time.

      Enjoy the week, too!

      Liked by 2 people

      • At 20, visiting home from college,I was sideswiped by the movie, and it inspired me to attempt an emotional, heartfelt and likely incoherent conversation about my childhood with my bewildered parents. All involved distinctly remembered things differently. Perhaps the effect of the book (I read it later) and/or the movie depends at least a little on one’s own issues, of which I had several. Dozen.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve never seen the “East of Eden” movie. Am I right that it left out or minimized the (Asian-American) Lee character? I found him to be Steinbeck’s most compelling creation in the novel. And, yes, a story (whether on the page or the screen) that can evoke all kinds of emotions.


          • Since I don’t recall Lee from the movie, I’m betting you’re spot-on… truth is, I got a bit overwrought as I watched, and can’t say with accuracy what or who was or wasn’t on-screen as the thing went on…

            Liked by 1 person

  9. I have always felt ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ to be overrated. I read it just before my only visit to New Orleans (along with another much better novel set in N.O. ‘The Moviegoer’ by Walker Percy, who was responsible for publishing ‘Confederacy’). I suppose I should give it another chance someday. I think John Kennedy Toole had a lot of potential but just wasn’t quite there yet.

    Incidentally, that’s fascinating footage of crewcut Ray before he started wearing the glasses. As those questions all dealt with movies, I knew he would do well, even better as they were questions about literary adaptations. However, he wasn’t much of a Henry James fan, missing the question about ‘The Heiress’, based on ‘Washington Square’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Brian! “A Confederacy of Dunces” is indeed an uneven novel, and you make a great point when you allude to how young Toole was when he wrote it, but I found the book so funny at times that I kind of overlooked its flaws. 🙂

      “The Moviegoer” is an excellent novel, and I’m very glad you recommended it to me a few years ago!

      I LOVED that Ray Bradbury appearance on “You Bet Your Life,” and I have to think that Groucho (who was well-read) must have been playing dumb when he seemingly didn’t know who Bradbury was.


      • There is a sort of bleak darkness just underneath the humor in Toole’s book, which implies, to me at least, a stream of hopelessness running below concerning human endeavor and aspirations– because we are too often weak, without the strength to love, because we know nearly nothing of ourselves and our fellows, but follow the phantoms of our specious understanding into folly, often ludicrous folly.

        I don’t think such a point of view is likely to be put forward by an older author who is more settled in mind, at least not in such funny, terrible ways. That the point of view was, insofar as it was the author’s, insupportable into middle age, makes this book unique, and disquieting. Yet damned funny. I laughed in places till my eyes were wet.

        I guess I could imagine its place on a list of Toole’s later, more mature, and more skillfully rendered works– but “The Confederacy of Dunces”, this lonely one, is all we’ve got, or will get. I am grateful for the bird in hand.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, jhNY. Eloquently said! I agree that there’s a melancholy undercurrent to “A Confederacy of Dunces,” undoubtedly influenced by the frustrations in Toole’s short life that ended in suicide. And, yes, “Confederacy” would most likely have been a rather different novel if Toole had written it as an older author in some alternate universe.


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