If anyone is confused by that title, I’d better explain: I’ve been pondering why the majority of previous reviewers have either loved or hated this book. I think one reason is that you have to really engage with the character of Ignatius J. Reilly in order to expose the funny side of the novel. Admittedly his lofty sense of self-importance and heedless misanthropy won’t make this easy, not forgetting his predilection for hot dogs, burping, etc; but if you bear with him, the scorn he pours forth on virtually everyone he comes into contact with does start to make you chuckle, particularly since his anachronistic language and imaginative insults sound positively alien amidst the casual slang of his New Orleans acquaintances.
There are some genuinely funny moments, and the storyline is structured along the lines of classical farce drama, with the unfortunate Ignatius spiralling downwards into an ever more precarious position, both socially and financially. Not that he cares, mind you – he has only entered the world of work temporarily and under coercive pressure from his mother, biding his time until his great social commentary modelled on the philosophy of Boethius propels him to prominence. I agree with one other reviewer that it is this latter project that makes the book a little turgid at times, when Ignatius casts down pages of vitriolic invective in his diary. These sections aren’t boring, but neither are they that funny, and the reader might be forgiven for skipping them to get back to Ignatius loudly criticising the latest film, or condescendingly mocking whomever he encounters that day.
Anyone who is looking for a deep social satire, portrait of New Orleans, or critical insight into the reality of the American Dream probably won’t be too enamoured with this book, since it achieves these very subtly, against a backdrop of farce and characters who in many cases are exaggerated or one-dimensional. But if you approach this book not expecting – or even wanting – to discover the psychologies or ‘truths’ of human existence, and instead begin with an open mind just large to accommodate a near-obese, pompous buffoon with aims to change the society he despises for its ignorance and avarice, you might be in for a pleasant surprise.