Sunday, September 19, 2010

BOOK: Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler

Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler, 417 pages

4th CBC Challenge; Giller Prize Winner 1997; 2nds Challenge

As another Barney might say, "This is legend-wait for it-ary". Barney Panofsky, English speaking, Jewish Montrealer is telling his life story, since that bastard Terry McIver wrote a book about Barney's life and Barney wants to set the record straight. Barney is pretty honest about his life - living in Paris in the 1950s, his three wives - one buried, and two divorced, his career in television, his three children. Oh, yeah, and the murder charge of his best friend he was acquitted on.

Richler has the amazing ability to write characters who are awful, with few redeeming characteristics, and yet I still like them. He first did this with Duddy Kravitz, who makes some wonderful cameos in Barney's Version, and now with Barney Panofsky. Fans of the unreliable narrator will have much to chew on here, as Barney is a bit forgetful now that he is sixty-eight, plus, how honest can he be about some of the shitty things he's done? The mystery of the murder hangs over the whole story - what happened to Boogie that night at the cottage? Did Barney kill him?

My only complaint is the length. I wish it had been a hundred pages less. Richler packs the pages with so many literary allusions and references that it slowed me down, and I'm sure I only caught a small percentage. The memoirs have footnotes, as one of Barney's children has gone through and made the corrections of known facts, which adds to the references. I liked the footnotes as it helped reference what Barney was really able to remember or not. For example, even in his muddled state, he remembers all the Montreal Canadiens' games and goal scorers, a nice touch. Also, the Second Mrs Panofsky, as she is always called, is a nonstop talker, and when I'd hit a page with one of her conversations with her mother on the phone, I'd practically groan. It's a credit to Richler that I'd still read it because I was scared I would miss some important part of the narrative within her rambling nattering. What was Barney's perspective of her perspective of him?

In other good news, this has just been made into a movie, with Paul Giamatti as Barney. I think it had its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and I am looking forward to seeing it.

1 comment:

Bybee said...

I so want to make this my own personal book/movie event! Ever since I read Duddy, I'm smitten with Mordecai Richler.