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Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole [Hardcover]

Rene Pol Nevils , Deborah George Hardy
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 27 2002
The phenomenal success of John Kennedy Toole’s comic masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces, is now legendary, a story that has long beckoned a deeper exploration into the life, imagination, and demise of the writer responsible for one of American literature’s most memorable characters—Ignatius J. Reilly. In Ignatius Rising, René Pol Nevils and Deborah George Hardy present the first biography of Toole, drawing upon scores of interviews with contemporaries of the writer and acquaintances of his influencing mother, Thelma, as well as unpublished letters, documents, and photographs. Frank yet sympathetic, Ignatius Rising deftly describes a life that is dark, tragic, bizarre, and amazing—but luminous with the gift of laughter, a life not unlike those of Toole’s beloved characters, now loved the world over.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Description

From Library Journal

By now, the tale of Toole's sprawling comic novel of New Orleans, A Confederacy of Dunces, lives on as a modern literary legend. A young novelist writes what he thinks is his masterpiece, is rejected by a famous New York publisher, and commits suicide only to be published posthumously and win the Pulitzer. But in this almost hagiographic account, first-time authors Nevils and Hardy reveal a story that is not quite so simple. Raised in New Orleans by a mostly distant and later mentally disturbed father and a clinging mother, Toole developed the love of reading early. When he finished Confederacy, he sent it to Simon and Schuster, where the famous Robert Gottlieb championed the manuscript and encouraged Toole to make some changes so that the book would be more publishable. Toole refused, asked for the manuscript back, and eventually descended into depression and paranoia, blaming Gottlieb for the novel's failure. After his death, his mother urged Walker Percy to publish Confederacy. The rest is history. Here, mother and son seem to have stepped right out of the Southern Gothic of a Tennessee Williams play, but this is a sad tale of one family's descent into despair and lonely ascent into posthumous fame. Recommended for most collections, especially where Confederacy is popular. Henry Carrigan, Lancaster, PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative but undistinguished May 23 2004
By A Customer
The person who said "great subject, poor execution" pretty much nailed it. I enjoyed finally learning in detail about the background of Toole and the circumstances under which the novel was written, but this is basically a dry assemblage of facts with no real sense of Toole as a person or an artist. The correspondence between Toole and Gottlieb also says nothing enlightening about why Simon and Schuster wouldn't publish Confederacy and the authors don't even attempt a hypothesis beyond "they didn't like the Myrna Minkoff character very much". My own feeling has always been that Toole was ahead of his time. His brand of satire was far too dark and biting for the 1960s, and I think if the book had been published then there would have been an extremely negative public reaction to it - which might have been even worse for Toole than not being published at all. Either way, given the struggles he was having with depression and alcoholism it's unlikely he would have survived long enough for his true audience to emerge at the end of the following decade.
Note to the guy who thinks Thelma was the "ghostwriter" of Confederacy because her letter-writing style is so much like Ignatius Reilly's - you're overlooking the obvious. Thelma wrote letters to her son the entire time he was in Puerto Rico working on the first draft of the novel. Where do you think he got it from? Thelma may have acted as a sort of twisted Muse to Toole, but I highly doubt she was capable of conceiving of such a masterpiece of comic writing, much less committing it to paper. I suppose we should be grateful towards her for finally getting it into print, even if she was motivated by her own ego as much as anything else.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Great subject, poor execution. March 24 2004
By A Customer
I really, really wanted to enjoy this book. However, the writing is about what you would expect from two women (who remarkably resemble Mrs. Levy) who took a writing course because they had nothing better to do. They decided to make the end-product of their course this biography.
I love New Orleans, I lived uptown, and "Confederacy" is one of my favorite books. Alas, this book does give good information (typically in the form of unadulterated correspondence from Mr. Toole) about John Kennedy Toole, but the execution is stunted.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and inspiring despite the outcome March 4 2004
By A Customer
I've heard it said, "How said that we are cheated out of what Toole 'might' have written had he not taken his own life." I, too was depressed by this thought. The man had so much more left in him. After reading both NEON BIBLE and CONFEDERACY, I was sure no one could take his place. The closest thing I've found is an author by the name of Jackson McCrae. His writing is a combination of all the things Toole loved. It has the dark sadness of NEON BIBLE and the hilarity of CONFEDERACY. And it amazes me that so few others have followed in the literary footsteps of Toole.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Truth Stranger than Fiction Aug. 10 2003
Probably the best the authors could do given the circumstances. Great character description (esp. Thelma). Very interesting Belushi anecdote.
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Any fan of Confederacy of Dunces should naturally have an interest learning about the author, John Kennedy Toole. Misunderstood and over-protected throughout most of his life, Toole struggled with not only his writing, but as the authors would lead you to believe, also his sexuality. After reading this, one will notice many similarities and parallels between John Kennedy Toole and his famous character, Ignatius Reilly, from their social awkwardness to their dependence on their mothers.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, depressing April 3 2002
This is a mostly sad tale about a very talented writer. It really shows the dominace his mother had over him and how conflicted he was about who he was, which in the end was probably why he killed himself. Many writers get rejected, they all don't kill themselves... so it was Nevils and Hardy's job to shed light on the many factors that led to his suicide, which I believe they did very well.
However it's not all dark and gloomy, reading about how insane his mother was quite funny at times, although I wouldn't want to spend an evening at one of her recitals or listen to her ramble on the phone(I have my own mother for that)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Informative Dec 29 2001
I finished Ignatius Rising very quickly, maybe because of my great interest in the book A Confederacy of Dunces. There is certainly a wealth of information here for the Dunces fan. I must say right off that Gottlieb ,the N Y editor, seemed to want the book to be perfect or maybe was just making excuses because something in the book offended him. I didn't feel he was really trying to help Toole, more like just stringing him along. The authors here play down that Gottlieb might have been offended with something in the book and therefore didn't give it it's due consideration. I still don't buy that, after all Gottlieb read the m.s. so he must have realized that Dunces was a masterpiece. I think editors having so much power over an artist's work can be a little intoxicating and blinding, at least this may have prooved true for the editor in question here. I don't really know of course and there are still unanswered questions in this regard upon completing this informative work. There are facts here I never knew, like there being an earlier version of Dunces with Ignatius being called something else. Towards the end of the book the tragic visitation of Toole's depression makes for tough reading. The authors deserve a lot of credit for digging out this much info on Dunces and Toole. I just can't say after reading this tragic story that I walk away from this book with an all together good feeling.
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