Toole, author of the renowned A Confederacy of Dunces (Penguin Modern Classics)
, wrote The Neon Bible (his only other novel) when, remarkably, he was still a teenager. A classic of American literature of innocence lost, it can be ranked with novels by Twain, Salinger and S. E. Hinton. Telling the beautifully moving story of Dave, a poor Mississippian rural boy, as he looks back on his childhood and early teens, he is the centre of the novel, holding it together through his captivating vernacular; the slow, easy language complementing the reader's powerful impression of him and his world.
Toole's two novels are completely different in style, language and humour. In his later novel, we have the gargantuan Ignatius Reilly, a towering, Rabelaisian, Falstaff-like figure; devotee of Boethius, battling against the dim-witted in his quest for truth, beauty - and the endless devouring of hotdogs. Yet both novels and the characters share important themes and traits: in their heartache and principles, they are essentially the same, valuing truth and beauty above all else; both are outsiders, most often alone, recognising the painful inhumanity in their worlds as they suffer the corruption of innocence; and both convey a pervading, penetrating sadness at the very heart of their lives. A truly wonderful novel.