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Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler
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Barney's Version (original 1997; edition 2010)

by Mordecai Richler

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1,333295,822 (4.06)71
  1. 01
    The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (UrliMancati)
    UrliMancati: It has been said that Barney is Holden at the end of his life. While the twos do not have so much in common, the reader will definitively love both characters.
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» See also 71 mentions

English (21)  Italian (8)  All (29)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Post-Quebexit meta-shenanigans

I picked up the "Barney’s Version" movie tie-in edition before the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival as I usually try to get in some of the related novel readings prior to their film version premieres. As it happened, I found the book’s first 10 or 20 pages so unappealing that I abandoned it and had no further interest in seeing the film either. Fast forward to February 2017 and looking over my unread shelves I decided to give it another try.

For the most part, it is still a pretty unappealing read unless you delight in unlikeable and unreliable narrators. Perhaps as I am approaching (already in?) my own curmudgeonly years I was better able to relate now and was able to push through.

The setup here is that fictional movie/tv producer Barney Panofsky (who shares some biographical elements with novelist Richler) is disparaged in a rival’s memoirs and sets out to write his own version of events. These are structured around three parts, sub-titled by his three wives’ names as: “Clara”, she-who-is-never-named “The Second Mrs. Panofsky” and “Miriam.” The additional metafiction is that one of his sons is editing the manuscript and is providing factual corrections in the footnotes, as well as an afterword (which contains a major plot-spoiler, so be forewarned if you decide to jump ahead).

Barney is unreliable as a narrator though as he uses the opportunity to vent his own grudges, express his sexual fantasies and because he is showing signs of senile dementia (which he doesn’t want to admit to). He sets himself mental challenges in the text such as trying to remember e.g. the name of the kitchen appliance with which you strain spaghetti, the names of the Seven Dwarves, etc. The “Clara” years centre around 1950’s Paris, France where Barney and his cronies were looking for their own “Lost Generation” experience 30-or-so years too late after Hemingway et al. The “Second Mrs. Panofsky” years centre more around the pursuit of wife No. 3 “Miriam” but also includes the setup for the central mystery where Barney is suspected, but never convicted, of the murder of a friend. It isn’t really until the “Miriam” years that you begin to have some empathy for Barney as he yearns for the lost love of his life as his mental powers diminish more rapidly.

I ended up enjoying Barney’s Version, but admit that the first 300 pages or so were still a bit of a chore.

Trivia:
Barney’s Version is full of Quebeciana and Canadiana references esp. about hockey as well as connections to Richler’s other novels. So title characters from books such as The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Solomon Gursky Was Here make cameo appearances.

Barney’s Version (1997) was written in the aftermath of the Quebec Separation Referendum (now they would have called it Quebexit) of October 30, 1995 which was won in a squeeker (50.58% to 49.42%) by the “Non” (i.e. “No to separation from Canada”) votes. Richler uses the opportunity to take a last swipe at “The Weasel” (Barney’s name in the text for Quebec Separatist Premier Jacques Parizeau) and Dollard Redux (Barney’s name for Canadian Federal Separatist Party leader Lucien Bouchard.) ( )
  alanteder | Mar 25, 2017 |
DIVERTENTISSIMO. ( )
  cloentrelibros | Aug 23, 2016 |
It’s full of things I love (unreliable narrator, slowly unfolding story, examining a life) so I’m bound to like it right off the bat, but this was exceptionally well done. Even though I’ve read several books in this vein lately (totally by coincidence) it wasn't diminished for me.

I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me. No seriously. ( )
  bongo_x | Jun 23, 2015 |
Clever, erudite and witty. Sometimes the layers of irony and satire feel a bit forced, and it's occasionally a hard to engage with the characters because the author gets in the way by being overtly clever. Nevertheless, a very enjoyable read if you're ready to get into the swing of Richler's cynical humour. ( )
  AmberMcWilliams | Feb 21, 2015 |
quite funny although some of the references to other literary works or Canadian events, escaped me ( )
  HendrikSteyaert | Jan 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mordecai Richlerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bekker, Jos denTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Codignola, MatteoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pàmies, XavierTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Important events
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Florence, and in memory of four absent friends: Jack Clayton, Ted Allan, Tony Godwin, and Ian Mayer
First words
Terry's the spur.
Quotations
Before his brain began to shrink, Barney Panofsky clung to two cherished beliefs: Life was absurd, and nobody ever truly understood anybody else.
Last words
Disambiguation notice
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Barney Panofsky, big consumer of women, booze and cigars, in other words, a man who knows how to make enemies, decides at old age to write his memoirs. And he lashes out with sardonic pleasure and sarcasm and provides his version of the events in his life. Anyone that bothered him is crushed by his wringer of sarcasm. He can however not hide that deep inside, he is a romantic idealist with a nostalgic longing for purity and beauty.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0671028464, Paperback)

Barney Panofsky smokes too many cigars, drinks too much whiskey, and is obsessed with two things: the Montreal Canadiens hockey team and his ex-wife Miriam. An acquaintance from his youthful years in Paris, Terry McIver, is about to publish his autobiography. In its pages he accuses Barney of an assortment of sins, including murder. It's time, Barney decides, to present the world with his own version of events. Barney's Version is his memoir, a rambling, digressive rant, full of revisions and factual errors (corrected in footnotes written by his son) and enough insults for everyone, particularly vegetarians and Quebec separatists.

But Barney does get around to telling his life story, a desperately funny but sad series of bungled relationships. His first wife, an artist and poet, commits suicide and becomes--à la Sylvia Plath--a feminist icon, and Barney is widely reviled for goading her toward death, if not actually murdering her. He marries the second Mrs. Panofsky, whom he calls a "Jewish-Canadian Princess," as an antidote to the first; it turns out to be a horrible mistake. The third, "Miriam, my heart's desire," is quite possibly his soul mate, but Barney botches this one, too. It's painful to watch him ruin everything, and even more painful to bear witness to his deteriorating memory. The mystery at the heart of Barney's story--did he or did he not kill his friend Boogie?--provides enough forward momentum to propel the reader through endless digressions, all three wives, and every one of Barney's nearly heartbreaking episodes of forgetfulness. Barney's Version, winner of Canada's 1997 Giller Prize, is Richler's 10th novel, and a dense, energetic, and ultimately poignant read. --R. Ellis

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:48 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Barney Panofsky smokes too many cigars, drinks too much whiskey, and is obsessed with two things: the Montreal Canadiens hockey team and his ex-wife Miriam. An acquaintance from his youthful years in Paris, Terry McIver, is about to publish his autobiography. In its pages he accuses Barney of an assortment of sins, including murder. It's time, Barney decides, to present the world with his own version of events. Barney's Version is his memoir, a rambling, digressive rant, full of revisions and factual errors (corrected in footnotes written by his son) and enough insults for everyone, particularly vegetarians and Quebec separatists. But Barney does get around to telling his life story, a desperately funny but sad series of bungled relationships. His first wife, an artist and poet, commits suicide and becomes--a la Sylvia Plath--a feminist icon, and Barney is widely reviled for goading her toward death, if not actually murdering her. He marries the second Mrs. Panofsky, whom he calls a "Jewish-Canadian Princess," as an antidote to the first; it turns out to be a horrible mistake. The third, "Miriam, my heart's desire," is quite possibly his soul mate, but Barney botches this one, too. It's painful to watch him ruin everything, and even more painful to bear witness to his deteriorating memory. The mystery at the heart of Barney's story--did he or did he not kill his friend Boogie?… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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