A Confederacy of Dunces
The ultimate, I'd argue, forgotten classic - John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces follows the fortunes of the horrific Ignatius C. Reilly as he waddles around New Orleans dispensing misanthropic wisdom, avoiding work and arguing with his mother. Reilly is an awful, horrible creature with little to redeem him other than a savage, black wit and an unshakeable belief in himself. He is a true Rabelaisian character, fat and greedy and sexually twisted. Reilly is awful but his cynicism allows Kennedy Toole to examine in some depth the plodding, bleak grimness of life. This use of a character in such a blunt and Juvenalian satirical style is often described as Swiftian. Indeed the title of the novel itself is from Swift - 'When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him' - and sarcastically sums up Reilly's attitude to the world as well as poignantly reminding us that the novel itself was never published in the authors' lifetime but came out some years after he committed suicide. He was posthumously awarded the 1981 Pulitzer prize.