Tag Archives: Giller Prize

419 by Will Ferguson

419

Winner of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Globe and Mail Top 100 Book ~ 2012

I’ve been aware of Will Ferguson for many years but I’ve never read his work. He’s won several Leacock Medals and authored two well-received humorous novels, HappinessTM and Spanish Fly. But, when his novel 419 was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, I was surprised that he had written a dramatic novel, let alone a thriller. It didn’t seem to fit with what I knew of his style and subjects. Ferguson’s Giller-Prize winning novel tells the story of a daughter, Laura, dealing with the death of her father after he falls for a 419 scam. (A 419 scam is something along the line of one of those classic emails from the Prince of Nigeria saying you won the lottery, etc. Everyone has gotten dozens of these; some lucky souls, like me, get them at work every day). I bought this novel because I collect Giller winners, and I decided to read it because of an interesting extended interview Ferguson did with Shelagh Rogers about 419. The book sounded fascinating and exciting. An inside look at the Nigerian underbelly and those 419ers trying to bilk trusting/greedy Westerners out of their cash. I really wanted to like this book. For the most part though, it was a something of a letdown.

I’d like to start with the positives though, because no book is without some kind of enjoyment. There are two very strong points in this novel: Ferguson’s descriptions of Nigeria and his portrayal of the email exchanges between Laura’s father and the scammer. At his heart, Will Ferguson is a travel writer. These talents really shined when he was describing the countryside of Nigeria and the urban decay of Lagos Island. These chapters hit all five senses and capture both the beauty and danger of this part of the world. The landscape passages were punctuated with examples of how the Nigerian people survive in this environment. To my second point, the actual 419 scam itself was gripping. As you read the emails exchanged between Henry Curtis and Winston, in his many guises, your stomach just cringes. It’s that classic dramatic irony you learn in Intro to Lit…you know something bad is going down but the poor rube in the story has no clue. This was the most enjoyable part of the book for me. Unfortunately, past about page 75 the story has moved on from the actual scam that was the catalyst for the primary plot.

Now for the fairly large problems that cost 419 a couple stars on Goodreads. There are too many unnecessarily detailed plot lines, the vast majority of characters are very one-dimensional and undeveloped, and the dénouement is frustratingly bad. I’m only going to get into the plot line problem; undeveloped characters are a pretty straightforward problem and I don’t want to spoil the ending.

Ferguson has several independent story lines going throughout the novel: Laura’s discovery and investigation of her father’s misfortune, the scammer Winston’s rise in the Nigerian criminal underworld, Amina’s story – a pregnant Muslim woman roaming the Nigerian countryside for some unexplained reason, and Nnamdi’s – a village boy who finds success in the oil patch and then falls unwillingly into the grip of Nigerian organized crime. The four plots eventually come together. Amina’s story comes out of nowhere and is frustratingly slow. Had this storyline came earlier, I likely wouldn’t have finished the novel. Nnamdi’s story is more gripping and he is the most developed character in book. My big problem is that the interaction between Amina, Nnamdi and the central character Laura is, while very important, rather miniscule. I felt like their story could have been told in a 5 page digression rather than taking almost 60% of the book.

This is a relatively heavy book, 400 pages with medium sized print. After finishing it and mentally marinating in it for a few days, I think I have my issue with 419 figured out. Will Ferguson took a great concept for a short story and inflated it into a novel. The title, the description on the back, and all the promo around the time the book was released and at the Giller ceremony led me to believe this was a story about a man being duped by financial predators. 419ing only took up maybe a third of the book. This is part story of an internet scam, part story of life in Nigeria. I can understand Ferguson’s motivation in telling the story this way; I could see his desire to give an accurate description of life in Nigeria beyond the 419ers and how a life of crime seems somewhat inevitable for the country’s down trodden. But instead we got a bit of a mish mash and a frustrated reader saying “get on with it.” I’ve read a few other titles from the Giller shortlist that 419 beat and I’m surprised this took the title. 419 by Will Ferguson was one of the few novels I’ve read in the last year or two that has been a disappointment.

Hellgoing by Lynn Coady

HellgoingLynnCoady2210_f

Winner of the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Shortlisted for the 2013 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

An Amazon.ca Best Book ~ 2013

A Globe and Mail Best Book ~ 2013

A book of short fiction is an interesting experience. There are several universes and characters that you start to love and then you almost instantly have to abandon them. I had a severe aversion to short stories when I first began my post-secondary study of English literature well over a decade ago. I can’t put my finger on why, but I just wasn’t a fan. Even reading classic stories like “A Clean, Well Lighted Place”, “A Rose for Emily”, or “Bartleby, the Scrivener” didn’t thrill me. Over the years though, I’ve developed a fondness for the genre. Canada is incredibly fortunate to have such talented writers of short stories – Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, Alistair MacLeod, Mavis Gallant, and of course Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro. That being said though, I have real difficult reviewing collections of stories. I don’t like writing up a bit on each story and it’s sometimes hard to find thematic threads to pull on that run through the whole book. After I finish a book of short fiction I always ask myself if I even want to bother writing a blog post. But, with a book as good as this one was, I felt I had no choice.

Lynn Coady has been steadily rising as one of the most prominent literary writers in Canada. The Nova Scotia-born author has been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, two Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize nominations, four Globe and Mail Best Book mentions, and two Giller Prize nominations with the win going her way in 2013. Coady is known for her sharp prose – beautiful yet not flowery or even poetic, her razor-sharp witty humour, and being merciless with her characters. The Giller winner Hellgoing is Coady’s second book of short stories and sixth book overall. I have to be honest, while I’ve owned this book since its Giller win, I read this book now because of Jian Ghomeshi’s mention of it in his now infamous Facebook post after CBC fired him.

This book was fantastic. Coady’s book was very reminiscent of collections by Munro and Atwood in that, while the stories are in no way linked by plot, character, or specific setting, they are bound together thematically. While character types, writing styles, and points-of-view all change, there are various common themes throughout the whole volume – most notably that linear personal influence of past to present self. But, what really made this book for me were the characters. Like a lot of literary short fiction, the stories of Hellgoing are very character driven as opposed to plot driven, so Coady made sure that her nine main characters were highly developed and very three-dimensional. The protagonists were a venerable motley crew of mostly women; a mix of the pathetic, misanthropic, pitiful, hopeful, and mysterious and were, quite often, ironically unlikable.

The quality of writing in the nine stories was absolutely above reproach. While not poetic, the prose was elevated and very literary. In a way, Coady’s writing was a throwback to older modernist authors with solid, punchy lines. In most of the stories, she integrated the dialogue into the general narration to increase the staccato effect. If I had to guess, the writing style was what tipped the Giller Jury over the top in awarding the prize to this book. Short Story volumes do not often win this award – only three previous collections have won, two of them were by Alice Munro and one was a highly connected cycle of stories that could be read as a novel.

“Dogs in Clothes”, “Clear Skies”, “The Natural Elements”, and “Body Condom” were my favorite stories while “Wireless” and “Mr. Hope” were my least favorite. This was a very emotional collection with very memorable characters and accessible themes. One of the best books of 2013, Hellgoing is a very literary volume best suited to the advanced and discerning reader.

Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards

Co-Winner of the 2000 Giller Prize

Shortlisted for the 2000 Governor-General’s Award for Fiction

Shortlisted for the 2000 Trillium Book Award

Selected for Canada Reads 2009

Globe and Mail Best Book – 2000

An Ottawa Citizen Best Book – 2000

I have two things to say to start out: first, this was an incredible book; second, there will be spoilers in this review. I feel that I cannot express what I want to express without giving away key plot points and the ending of the book; I do not feel bad about this as this novel is ten years old, a multiple award winner, a former Canada Reads selection, and a national bestseller during its time. So that being said, let’s get down to it. I am a big fan of David Adams Richards. I like the gritty and detailed style he uses to really dig into the hearts and souls of his characters. Mercy Among the Children is Richards’ masterpiece. Epic in proportion but local in narrative, this story would crack even the stoniest reader. Set in the rural Miramichi area of New Brunswick, this novel explores the bondages that people are born into and suffer through: namely family circumstances and reputations, poverty, low standing in regards to societal class, faith, and general surroundings.

This novel looks at three generations of the Henderson family: grandfather and patriarch Roy Henderson, Sydney Henderson – central character through most of the novel, and his son, Lyle Henderson. Richards weaves a rich tapestry of characters that are truly representative of rural Maritime life: the mill workers, the rich businessman with little education, the self-educated outcast, and many many others. Having grown up and spent most of my life in the Maritimes, with much of this time being spent in rural areas of Nova Scotia and PEI, I believe this is a novel that only someone from this part of the country could write this well. I have met someone almost identical to all of these characters at some point; Mercy Among the Children is a novel that because of its locality, is universal in message and theme.

Ninety-five percent of the novel is told from the first person point-of-view of third generation Lyle Henderson; the narration is his relation of the events to a police officer in Saint John that he feels needs to hear his story. As the novel progresses the innocence that is so admiral about the members of the Henderson family erodes away. From almost the first chapter we see how the sins of the father transfer to the son. Roy Henderson, wrongfully accused of setting Leo McVicar’s mill ablaze, goes to prison and seals his family’s fate. His father, a self-educated amateur philosopher, is a pariah in the community because of both his family lineage and relentless pacifistic existence; as a result of this he is consistently taken advantage of by people in his community and used as a scapegoat for their own personal illicit gains, resulting in the untimely death of many innocent people, including Sydney himself.

One character I love in the book is the antagonist, Matthew Pit. A seemingly psychopathic monster, he will stop at nothing to influence and control those around him and free himself from his own bondage at the expense of anyone, especially Sydney. As the book progresses Matthew manipulates everyone around him, including Lyle after his father’s death. At the end of the novel, in a very symbolic moment, the Pit and Henderson families are eternally united through death and a life-giving gift.

Sydney Henderson has three children, Lyle, Autumn – an albino, and Percy. These three children represent the three options that people who are born into this type of situation usually have: First: death, as is the case of young Percy; second: you break free of these shackles and live your own life, as Autumn does with her successful novel and family; or third, you live your life exactly like the parents you so despised, as Lyle does. What really interests me is the fact that Lyle, as the novel comes to a close, ends up being a multimillionaire through an interesting turn of events with Leo McVicar’s family ties, yet he is still as miserable and angry as he was when he was an alcoholic young adult who committed physical acts of contrition to punish himself. Lyle never breaks free from the sins of his father or grandfather, even after everyone, including McVicar and Matthew Pit forgive them.

Mercy Among the Children is not a happy novel. It does not have a happy ending and everything isn’t tied up in a nice little package. In this way it is very realistic, when is life ever wrapped up neatly? This is a book that will haunt you. Despite being a very long book, 420 pages in my edition, I could read no more than 20 pages in a sitting simply because of the emotional toll the story has on you. A co-winner of the Giller Prize in 2000, the only year the prize was split, this novel will definitely endure past its authors time. The novel was perfectly paced, the climaxes were subtle and effective, and the characters believable. I strongly believe that David Adams Richards should be looked at in the same light as the other great writers of his generation like Michael Ondaatje, Guy Vanderhaeghe, and Timothy Findley.

The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre

Winner of the 2009 Giller Prize

Winner of the 2010 Dartmouth Book Award

Winner of the 2010 Atlantic Independent Booksellers’ Choice Award

Winner of the 2010 Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Fiction Book of the Year

Finalist for the 2010 Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award

A Globe and Mail Best Book ~ 2009

Linden MacIntyre: one of Canada’s most respected journalists. Winner of nine Gemini awards for his broadcast journalism work. He has made quite the journey from his small town roots in Capre Breton; starting out as a reporter for The Chronicle Herald in Halifax and now acting as a co-host on CBC’s The Fifth Estate Mr. MacIntyre is definitely no stranger to the Canadian public. When the 2009 Giller Prize short-list, and later the winner, was announced I was very skeptical. I had this thought in my head wondering if this book was chosen because of his stature in the Canadian media or because of the subject matter. Eventually I picked up the book and read the inside flap for a bit of an idea on the book; I was starting to come around to the possibility of this being a good book. I picked up the paperback the day it was released (I didn’t like the size of the hardcover so I waited for the paperback). I will admit when I am wrong. Five pages into this book and I was hooked. The Bishop’s Man and Linden MacIntyre are, without a doubt, going to join the likes of Alistair MacLeod, Hugh MacLennan, Sheldon Currie, and D.R. MacDonald as the great Cape Breton storytellers.

The Bishop’s Man focuses on Father Duncan MacAskill; a priest often referred to by his brethren as The Exorcist or The Purificator because of his role in “dealing with” wayward priests to avoid scandal, all at the bishop’s request. In Fr. Duncan, MacIntyre has created the perfect Canadian anti-hero. Set in the mid-90s, the story takes place around the time of the eruption of abuse scandals in Newfoundland and New England; MacAskill travels around Atlantic Canada to confront the wayward priests and their victims with the ultimate goal of relocating the offenders to basically bury and cover-up potential scandal. When one of the more serious offenders decides to leave the priesthood and marry the bishop decides to appoint Fr. Duncan to a small parish in Creignish, NS to basically shield, or hide, him from the potential trouble that is sure to arise in the near future. The central character represents the human weakness that rests in everyone including those whom we believe should be without those weaknesses. Here we have a man who is partly responsible for essentially covering up the errant acts of his fellow priests all in the name of a higher power while still dealing with the pressures that face all priests. Through his steadily increasing drinking problem, his natural human desires, and his constant uncertainty about his place we see just another ordinary man.

This novel takes on a lot of themes. I remember seeing an interview with Linden MacIntyre (which is embedded below) where he says that The Bishop’s Man is ultimately a story about the corruption of power. I would go a step further and say the central them of this story is the perversion of power. The bishop represents this perversion. I truly believe that the bishop is not trying to cover up these occurrences for his own sake or for his own protection; I think these cover ups were put into action because the bishop really felt that these accusations will deeply damage the church and people’s faith in it. Calling on Fr. Duncan to stash these priests away was not an act of malice, but an act of desperation. Something else that really strikes me about Bishop Alex is the way he refuses to use the word “victim” and how upset he gets when Fr. Duncan uses that word when talking about the abused altar boys. Again, I really do think that the bishop really believes that all of these accusations are simply misunderstandings. The fact that Fr. Duncan cannot reconcile what the bishop sees as the truth and what he knows is the truth is the main contributor to his downward spiral.

On a more topical level this novel is about faith. What it takes to be a faithful person, what being faithful really means, and how questioning that faith is in the end an important part of being that faithful person. This surfaces in the story through many of the characters. I never believed any of the characters questioned the existence of God, but I do think that many, if not most, of the characters question their faith in the church, including Fr. Duncan.

The Bishop’s Man is a marvel of a book. I really do feel privileged to have had the pleasure of reading it. I look forward to reading his other two books and I have a good feeling that Linden MacIntyre will not only be known beyond his years as a great journalist but also as a great literary figure. I think his decades of experience as a reporter has conditioned him to be a great storyteller. One thing that especially impressed me about this book was that I believed it really was a priest speaking to me when I read the narration. Being a bad Catholic myself I have spoken to a number of priests; they tend to be very reflective, jumping from one point to the next with no real linear coherency to whatever they are talking about, MacIntyre nails this. I believe that 100 years from now, when university students are studying 21st century Canadian literature, this will be one of the first books that are studied. I also have no doubt that in the very near future when students/scholars are looking at the Catholic church abuse scandals, this will be a book they definitely pick up. Without a doubt one of the best books of the decade.

The 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist

The 2010 Scoitabank Giller Prize Longlist

David Bergen – The Matter With Morris

Douglas Coupland – Player One

Michael Helm – Cities of Refuge

Alexander MacLeod – Light Lifting

Avner Mandelman – The Debba

Tom Rachman – The Imperfectionists

Sarah Selecky – This Cake Is For The Party

Johanna Skibsrud – The Sentimentalists

Cordelia Strube – Lemon

Joan Thomas – Curiosity

Jane Urquhart – Sanctuary Line

Dianne Warren – Cool Water

Kathleen Winter – Annabel

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is one of the biggest literary events on the Canadian cultural scene. Much can be said about the Giller prize: it tends to be Toronto-centric, established writers are often long- or short-listed simply because it is “their turn”, the lists are often dominated by authors from the Bertelsmann group of publishers, and, as with almost any award, the best book doesn’t always win. But, perhaps more important than any of these common criticisms, the Giller Prize shines a spotlight on CanLit in the same way the big film festivals shine a spotlight on independent cinema.

In 1994 Jack Rabinovitch established the award as a tribute to his late wife Doris Giller, former literary editor of the powerhouse newspaper The Toronto Star. Almost from the outset The Giller Prize established itself as one of the premier literary awards in the country. Its winners have included icons such as Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Michael Ondaatje, Alice Munro, and David Adams Richards but has also rewarded great books by relatively unknown or obscure writers like Bonnie Burnard, Vincent Lam, and, relatively unknown in literary circles, Linden MacIntyre. Through the long-lists, short-lists, and winners, the reading public is exposed to amazing literature that they may otherwise might not see.

Part of what I like about the Scotiabank Giller Prize is the pomp and circumstance that surrounds it. The night of the actual award is something that rivals any other Canadian awards show. Other Canadian literary awards should take note of this. The Governor-General’s Literary Awards, arguably the most historically significant literary award, would benefit greatly from this format. I have always found the awarding of the GGs somewhat anti-climatic. The GGs consist of 14 different awards, 7 in each official language. This could easily translate into a black-tie awards show event. Only time will tell if they take my suggestion.

So, what can be said of this years long-list? I am not surprised by the inclusion of Jane Urquhart’s and David Bergen’s books but am surprised by the exclusion of Yann Martel; this is simply because of what I mentioned earlier with the “their turn” mentality that sometimes comes out when prominent authors release a new title. That being said, a prominent writer on this year’s list, Douglas Coupland, was a shocker to me. While he is a masterful writer, Coupland seems to rarely get any kind of recognition from the major Canadian accolades (this is his second title on a long-list). His novel, Player One, is a novelization of Coupland’s CBC Massey Lecture. Having read a few pages of this book once the list was released I am very confident in saying that this is a serious contender. Other novels that I am not surprised to see on this list include Kathleen Winter’s Annabel, Joan Thomas’ Curiosity, and Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists. All of these novels have had a lot of positive critical attention and will be strong contenders in the coming months.

Ultimately I am looking forward to collecting these novels and eventually reading them all. There are very few occasions that a Giller nominated book has disappointed; a Giller winner has never failed to be a great book. I foresee this years awards night being as unpredictable as any other. Remember 2008 when everyone was positive that Rawi Hage would be taking home the prize and Joseph Boyden’s name was pulled from the envelope or in 2007 when Elizabeth Hay took down the powerhouses Michael Ondaatje and the first two-time winner M.G. Vassanji? Anything can happen. Of course I have to put in my two-cents on who will be on the short-list. Here are my five picks:

Douglas Coupland – Player One

Avner Mandelman – The Debba

Sarah Selecky – This Cake Is For The Party

Joan Thomas – Curiosity

Kathleen Winter – Annabel

Every year Jack Rabinovitch reminds the crowd that for the price of a good dinner in Toronto you can buy all five books on the short-list. Take his advice. Eat at home on November 9th and buy these five books.

Disagree with my picks? Go to http://www.scotiabankgillerprize.ca/guess-the-giller.html and make yours.

The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

Winner of the 1998 Giller Prize

Winner of the 1998 National Book Critics’ Circle Top Fiction Award

Winner of the 1998 Trillium Award

Winner of the 1999 Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Fiction Book of the Year

New York Times Book Review Best Book – 1998

Shortlisted for the 1998 Roger’s Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

Selected for Canada Reads 2004

Alice Munro is almost universally known as one of, if not the single, greatest living writer(s) in English and a true master of the short story. She has won countless awards, 3 Governor-Generals, 2 Gillers, numerous O. Henry awards, Commonwealth prizes, Trillium prizes, and the Man Booker International Prize. The only prize missing from her resume is the Nobel Prize which will hopefully one day be bestowed upon Ms. Munro if the Nobel committee ever gets past its Eurocentric mindset. I have read several Munro books and I can say without any hesitation that The Love of a Good Woman is the best of what I have seen. Like many of Munro’s later works, this book’s stories has a wide  array of characters ranging in age from young adolescence to old age. We are taken deep into Munro county (also known as Huron County) in her typical and magical Southern Ontario Gothic style. This collection, perhaps more than any of her others, showcases Alice Munro’s ability to write so subtly that without even realizing, you as a reader are drawn into the lives of these seemingly ordinary people experiencing extraordinary circumstances.

The Love of a Good Woman is a very fitting title for this collection. While it is the first story, or arguably, novella,  in the book, the title describes the overall themes of almost all of the stories. Whether it is a widow loving memories of her dead husband, a daughter loving her parents, a nurse caring for her patient, or a caretaker loving someone else’s child, the idea of a woman’s love permeates this collection down to its epicenter.

The stories themselves are filled with Munro’s classic reserved style. She never gives you all the details; like many great classic story tellers Munro does not lay all of her cards out on the table at once. Little pieces are given and all of the details unfold before your eyes in a natural course of events. Often times the narration is not completely linear and the characters lives are revealed in bits and pieces while the story’s endings quietly approach.

My favorite story in the collection is the second-to-last one, “Before the Change.” Like many of Munro’s stories following this collection, this piece looks at what happens when old world values meet new world sensibilities at at time when society is not ready to accept this change. “Before the Change” centres on a young woman who comes home from college and stays with her father. Through a series of letters to her professor boyfriend it is revealed that her doctor father is performing abortions which are illegal at the time this is set. This story best demonstrates my previous point about the subtle narration guiding you. At first we are led to believe that the father has a cold disregard for his daughter but as we learn more and more details and additional graphic details are revealed we see what is really going on; and, like all of the other pieces, when you finish this story you will see why the “love of a good woman” is the underlying theme. Other stories, notably, “Cortes Island”, “Rich as Stink”, “My Mother’s Dream”, and the title story, exemplify Munro’s ability to topically look at relationships but brutally dissect them with the understated tone of a master writer.

This book was an absolute pleasure to read. The amount of critical acclaim this book has received is without a doubt well deserved. The Love of a Good Woman exemplifies what makes Canadian Literature unique in the wider canon of English literature. This book looks at the family, relationships, and of course being the eternal Northrop Frye apologist that I am, this book exposes our insular need to play the victim and survive in the Canadian societal vacuum. I was always amazed at the lack of attention that Hollywood has paid to Alice Munro. This of course changed slightly when Sarah Polley adapted “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” into the Oscar nominated film Away From Her. From what I have read the story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” is being adapted into a film to be released next year starring Julianne Moore. There are at least 3 stories in this collection that could easily be made into great films. The Love of a Good Woman has earned a place in my Top 10 favorite list; not an easy feat.

Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

Winner of the 1997 Giller Prize

Winner of the 1998 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour

Winner of the 1998 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean region)

Winner of the 1998 QSpell Award

Winner of the 1998 Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award

Shortlisted for 1997 Roger’s Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

Selected for Canada Reads 2004

Well, here it is, my first review on the new Blog! It has been at least 8 months since I had sat down to read a “real” book. I stood looking at my book case and decided that it was time to rekindle my love of CanLit. I had read recently that a film adaptation of Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler staring Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman was due to be released this summer; so remembering this, then after reading the inside flap, and seeing the original “1997 Winner: The Giller Prize” sticker on the cover of my first edition copy I decided to crack this volume open and get sucked into the lives of another one of Richler’s anti-epics.

Sitting my computer right now I feel I would not be doing this book justice unless I was sipping on a snifter of cognac while putting down my thoughts. One of this first things that struck me about this book was that it is written in the first person, Richler’s first novel to use this point-of-view. Barney Panofsky is a hot tempered, wickedly witted, alcoholic, caring, shrewdly intelligent, and complicated wretch of an old man. It is very hard to avoid seeing autobiographical elements in fiction, especially first-person fiction, and even more so in the writings of Mr. Richler, and of course this book is no different. Barney, like Richler himself, is nearing the end of his life (Richler died 4 years after the publication of this, his last, novel), his health is failing, he has a love of Montecristo cigars and Macallan Scotch, and internally struggles with what it means to be a post-Holocaust Jew, if anything.

Barney’s Version, in the way it is written and in the themes that emerge, is very similar to Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel (I actually re-watched the film adaptation just to reaffirm my opinion). The story is told through flashbacks and interconnected vignettes. The book is written as though it is Barney Panofsky’s memoirs with his son Mike adding footnotes and penning an afterword to wrap the story up. There are multiple climaxes in the story, 4 in my opinion, one at the end of each marriage and then one at the end of the book. Barney really is a pathetic man but he has his redeeming qualities. The 417 pages contained in this novel take you on a roller coaster of feelings towards him, one minute you will despise this drunk wife-beater but 20 pages later you adore his dry wicked charm as he woos his next wife. Barney’s Version is about memory; and what happens to a man when his memories outweigh his future and then what that man becomes when those memories fade.

In the final chapter with one sentence Mike Panofsky describes his father with pinpoint accuracy; “Before his brain began to shrink, Barney Panofsky clung to two cherished beliefs: Life was absurd, and nobody ever truly understood anybody else” (417). I think that anyone would be very hard pressed to convince me that either of these two ideas are false. Through his incredible satire Richler has once again crafted a masterpiece on the human condition. When Barney is being tested by a psychiatrist for Alzheimer’s disease he gets agitated and lets him know that the great writers of world better understand what it means to be human than any doctor could. I agree. Richler’s final novel is a great and fitting end to a Canadian literary legend.

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