Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Even people who don’t like this book concede it’s well written. John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces was on my reading list for a few years before I picked it up. I knew it had won the Pulitzer (which meant it was either brilliant or dry), but it remained unopened on my shelf. Then I read it in two sittings and loved it. It’s hard to explain how or why this book is so entertaining; it’s such an absurd story and, if you think about it too much, a very depressing one. Fortunately, Ignatius is so loud and melodramatic that thinking gets pushed to the side. Most of the laughs that come are of the “this is so ridiculous; I can’t believe it” variety. read more

Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Historical fiction is a messy business: too much history and it’s dry, but too much fiction and readers assume you don’t know your history. Few authors juggle fact and fiction more deftly than Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall, but she made a mistake in her choice of copy editor. Whether or not a reader can overlook this flaw is determined by how interested they are in the story. Much has been written about Henry VIII and his many wives, but Mantel takes one of Henry’s advisers (Thomas Cromwell) as the book’s center and keeps Henry largely offstage. By doing so, she spares herself the difficulty of writing him and the book feels more authentic for it. If there is information that Cromwell is not privy to, the reader isn’t either. Any prior historical knowledge goes a long way. read more