I knew nothing about this book before it was recommended to me by my former roommate from when I lived in New Orleans--while we were visiting New Orleans a couple months ago.
And I loved it. It's hard to explain how it's possible to love something so teeming with unlikeable characters. Though I suspect that O'Toole kind of loved his characters--they're all ridiculous and most of them are outright assholes, but they are all given some humanity and even loveliness. Even Ignatius, who is the worst.
I had slightly mixed feelings about Ignatius being the worst. After all, he joins a long line of literary fat slobs (as I discuss on my post about The Middlesteins). And yet he's somewhat of an exception: you can really say that Ignatius's obesity is shorthand for slobbishness, laziness, and other character flaws when said flaws are drawn out in such color and specificity.
In the end, though, I loved it because it depicted a New Orleans that I knew instantly even though I lived there several decades after Confederacy takes place. The neighborhoods, the old Prytania Theater, the dirtiness of the Quarter that still lingers despite rocketing real estate values. The accents were perfect--all of them, which was part of the charm: every single character gets an accent, affect, or neighborhood syntax (in contrast to books in which the white or upperclass characters inexplicably speak in typographically perfect English). The accents don't indicate intelligence or education level but the more accidental details of neighborhood, ethnicity, or class.
That bitten-off half-star preventing a full five for this book is because I can't say I couldn't put it down, or that I'd want to live in its pages. It was a hard read--most characters are miserable, poor, and stuck psychically or situationally, and though many of them are given the hope of change, that doesn't make it easier to swallow.