Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

“In a nutshell, I am not unaware of my failings. Neither am I a stranger to irony.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 379 pages.
Read from May 11, 2018 to May 17, 2018.

Forget The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz this is the novel that Richler should be best known for.

Barney Panofsky is the type of man that takes a no-nonsense approach to life and relishes in the absurdity that it often brings. Barney has been married three times, the last one whom he considers the love of his life and has lost due to his own poor choices. After being accused by his sworn enemy of being a wife-abuser, fraud and a murderer, Barney is compelled to write his own memoir to set the record straight, which what you are reading. The problem is that Barney’s memory is deteriorating and isn’t quite what it use to be. Who is telling the real truth about Barney?

This is a unique story of friendship and love through the eyes of an imperfect man. You could almost call this book a murder-mystery as the event of Barney’s friend’s death is constantly up for discussion in the book. The ending also offers a jaw-dropping conclusion, which I won’t spoil.

In comparison to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, I enjoy this novel the most. I found Barney to be much more agreeable. I should also add that Duddy makes an appearance in this novel. As a reader, it was easier to sympathize with Barney’s choices, albeit even the poor ones, whereas I found myself shaking my head more than once at Duddy’s actions and lack of morals. Barney has morals and is a man that is intensely dedicated to the people that matter to him. He still makes stupid choices with the people he loves but at least his moral compass is straight. Additionally, Barney has a canny sense of honesty and humour about him that Duddy lacked.

“But I hate being a grandfather. It’s indecent. In my mind’s eye, I’m still twenty-five. Thirty-three max. Certainly not sixty-seven, reeking of decay and dashed hopes. My breath sour. My limbs in dire need of a lube job. And now that I’ve been blessed with a plastic hip-socket replacement, I’m no longer even biodegradable. Environmentalists will protest my burial.”

Be sure you read the footnotes for some added humour and clarifications. They are footnotes that Barney’s son adds that really expand on the story and Barney’s character.  Apparently, parts of Richler’s life were an inspiration for his book. Like the fact that Richler met and fell in love with his second wife during the wedding to his first wife, similar to Barney. I would like to imagine that Richler was a lot like Barney and that this is why he is such a readable and strangely likeable character.

Despite Barney’s blunt character and obvious faults, this book is actually highly moving and emotional. Barney becomes that obnoxious friend that you somehow don’t want to part with and miss the energy they bring when they are not around. You mourn Barney’s losses as if he were truly your own friend and are sad to part with him at the end of the novel.

While I enjoyed this book more than Duddy’s story, I would still recommend reading both and to read Duddy’s story first as it technically comes before this novel. I would say that this book is also a necessary read for anyone from Montreal or Canada. Richler paints an intriguing version of the iconic city that would appeal to both French and non-French Canadians. Overall, this is a witty, enjoyable and grabbing story sure to captivate the most imperfect of us.

 

The Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy

The sequel and conclusion to a unique story of a group of cats in India.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 290 pages.
Read from May 8, 2018 to May 11, 2018.

Cat lovers, if you have not come across this author and her work, you need to. It is thanks to this book that I found my way out a very deep book-rut.  I am sad to see this delightful story come to an end but I guess nothing good lasts forever. This book picks up exactly where the previous book, The Wildlingsleft off so if you have not read the first book, stop right now and go and get your hands on a copy!

Set in the sprawling streets of India, you are reunited with the main characters, our felines friends, Mara, Southpaw, Katar, Hulo and Beraal.

Thewildings4
Image from the India Bookstore.

The group is still recovering from their fight with the ferals and some drastic changes to their neighbourhood. Food is becoming scarce and the group is starving. Mara, still living with her ‘bigfeet’ (humans) is blissfully unaware of the group’s situation and has not stepped up to be their sender out fear of the outside world and the hatred she still feels from some of the other cats.  However, a frightening event at Mara’s home forces her into the outside world where she comes to learn and appreciate what it is to be an outside cat. Meanwhile, Southpaw has found himself in dire trouble and is suffering from a life-threatening injury. In desperation, the group leaves him with Mara’s ‘bigfeet’ in hopes that they will take care of him but at the time Mara was already missing from her home.  By the time Mara finds the group, no one knows the outcome of Southpaw’s fate.  In order to help her friends, Mara needs to find a way to have the other cats accept her and take on the responsibility of being their sender.

This book concludes with the hopeful ending you are expecting but that doesn’t make the rest of the story any less exciting. While not quite as action-packed as the first novel, this novel focuses more on Mara’s inner dynamics and struggles into becoming who she is meant to be. Mara has grown older and is no longer a kitten. With the help of some new friends and enemies of a variety of different species, you follow Mara on her final journey to becoming the sender of Nizamuddin.

If you are looking for an easy read with some very unique and likeable characters, even if you don’t like cats, you will still appreciate this entertaining story.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

“Thou art god, I am god. All that groks is god.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 448 pages.
Read from April 17, 2018 to May 7, 2018.

I have to say the cover of this book is my all time favourite, the 1986 edition that is, and the one I have featured here. I have been drawn to this book long before I even know about this classic or the author or even science fiction as I remember seeing this cover when I was a kid and it left an impression.

Did you know? The artist that created the 1987 cover that I love so much was created by Andy Warhol’s brother, James Warhola

stranger
Such striking artwork.

This novel was originally published in 1961 and made waves with its literary, yet firmly science fiction, plot. The eventual promiscuity of the characters I am sure also helped with the interest in this book as well as things did get pretty sexy at times but free love is just one of the delicate topics that are breached in this story.

Valentine Michael Smith is a Martian. Or rather, he was born on Mars but is actually a human. After an expedition from Earth to Mars, the Martians ordered Valentine, who was a bit of an outcast, to go back to Earth with the astronauts.  After recovering in a hospital to adjust to the atmosphere of Earth, Valentine meets a nurse called Gillan who helps him escape the Earthly politics that he has yet to understand. Gillan enlists the help of Jubal, who is a wealthy man of many intellectual qualities that has a harem of women that he keeps around to serve him. Jubal ensures that the US government cannot claim anything on Valentine or on Mars while also taking the time to learn about Valentine and teach him what he can about Earth.  Valentine, despite being with his own kind, knows nothing about the cultural ways of humans and through his journey to understand, or grok, he also teaches his friends or water brothers what it means to be Martian which, offers amazing internal insight, knowledge and powers that humans did not even know they were capable of.  Valentine comes to understand humans so well that he even founds his own religion in order to teach those who are wanting to know his ways.

Throughout Valentine’s story, the author intensely reevaluates major institutions and taboos like religion, money, monogamy, the fear of death and even cannibalism. There are sections that are highly philosophical but they also occasionally derail the main intrigue of the plot making for some very dull moments. The philosophy itself is interesting, but as a reader, you feel as if you are no longer reading a science fiction novel but rather a piece of academia and it can be jarring. The political nuances were particularly boring and just about put me off the book. Some of the sections involving free love are quite sexy and liberating but in general, the author was still a man of his time as there are some highly misogynist sections. Here are two such examples,

“No, you’re really bright, for a female.”

“Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped it’s partly her fault.”

While the misogyny is forgivable due to the timeframe the book was written in, it doesn’t make it any less annoying when you are reading it as a modern woman.

Valentine’s character is superbly executed and watching him grok his new world is a unique experience that not many authors could not have pulled off.  I enjoyed portions of this book and the ending but in general, I felt bogged down with sidetracked details and characters that added little to the main plot.  Did I grok this book in fullness?  As Valentine would say, perhaps not, but I have no regrets in finally picking up the novel whose cover art fascinated me so long ago.