Book Review: Barney’s Version by Mordechai Richler

barneyHave you seen the movie Barney’s Version (starring Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Rachel Lefevre and the beautiful Rosamund Pike)?  If so, were you baffled that an entire trio of lovely and accomplished women managed to fall for Barney, a tubby slob?  I wasn’t.  That’s because I’ve read the book, which the rather well-intentioned and well-acted movie transformed into a bit of a mess.  Mordechai Richler’s book is one of the finest Canadian novels ever produced, and his Barney is a huge character:  brash, full of bile and bitter humour, a man who is passionate about business but is also capable of falling “truly, seriously, irretrievably in love in love” and “pulling surprises out of a hat”.  Barney may be a loutish, bigoted cigar-smoking quasi-alcoholic, but he is also  the loudest, funniest most charming man in the room, a man who seduces women and fundraisers alike.

They shouldn’t have cast Paul Giamatti.  They should have cast Dustin Hoffman about thirty years ago.  I’m not the first person to remark that Dustin, who plays Barney’s incorrigible father Izzy, looked like he was absolutely itching to play Barney, and I can hardly blame him.

The book is spectacular, filled with enough star characters to stuff three or four novels.  It’s a thorough immersion into the mind of Barney as he bounds politically incorrect around Montreal, Paris, London and Toronto, tripping through love and fatherhood, the Quebec separatist movement  and a career as a television producer.  Dip almost anywhere into the book and you will find passages like this one:

“The truth is Canada is a cloud-cuckoo land, an insufferably rich
country governed by idiots, its self-made problems offering comic
relief to the ills of the real world out there where famine and racial
strife and vandals in office are the unhappy rule.”

As for the ending, it literally sent chills down my spine.  I won’t reveal more.  I don’t want to spoil the book for you when you inevitably read it.

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