Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neil

We were just acting out the strangest, tragic little roles, pretending to be criminals in order to get by. We gave very convincing performances.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 368 pages.
Read from June 4, 2018 to June 14, 2018.

This book has been heralded with awards and accolades for its unique and outspoken story about Baby, a twelve-year-old girl just trying to make sense of the world and how she fits into it.

Baby is her name. Her real name, not some cute nickname. Baby’s parents were very young when they had her with her mother exiting from her life at an early age. Jules, Baby’s father, loves her but unfortunately, he seems to love heroin more. Jules does the best he can but often finds himself in less than ideal situations for raising a child. While Baby is on the cusp of leaving her childhood behind her, she tells her story with the frankness that can only come from that of a child yet she is slowly becoming more aware of how abnormal her life is with her father as she ages. While there are many pervasive aspects to this novel involving sexuality, drugs and prostitution, the quirky and honest way that Baby delivers her story makes for an enthralling combination of awe, shock and amusement.

“Suddenly I realized that I wanted everything to be as it was when I was younger. When you’re young enough, you don’t know that you live in a cheap lousy apartment. A cracked chair is nothing other than a chair. A dandelion growing out of a crack in the side walk outside your front door is a garden. You could believe that a song your partner was singing in the evening was the most tragic opera in the world. It never occurs to you when you are very young to need something other than what your parents have to offer you.”

The success of this book comes with how the author has delivered it in combination with some beautiful, and at times, poignant writing. Baby’s understanding and sense of the world is appropriate for her age yet reflective and insightful enough to engage any reader. Even if you had the idea of a normal childhood, the delivery of Baby’s story will still appeal to you because of how she approaches childhood and the insights she has on it. Childhood, in many ways, is horrible and magnificent time, which is reflective of the tone of this book. It is a portion of our lives that we can truly never ever relive or experience again for better and for worse.

“As a kid, you have nothing to do with the way the world is run; you just have to hurry to catch up with it.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Baby’s story and found the book to be highly readable and engaging. I think most fiction lovers will appreciate this quirky, awkward and honest rendition of a peculiar and traumatizing childhood.

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 Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler

“A boy can be two, three, four potential people, but a man is only one. He murders the others.”

4/5 stars.
ebook
Read from January 23, 2018 to February 4, 2018.

A Canadian classic; there are not many books that embody a French-Canadian setting and receive as much praise and success as this one did, especially with a protagonist as despicable as Duddy.

Saying that Duddy Kravitz is ambitious is an understatement.  After taking to heart what his grandfather said about a man owning land, Duddy is determined to rise above the Jewish ghetto in Montreal he has grown up in.

“A man without land is a nobody.”

As you follow Duddy’s life from a young age, you see that Duddy is as smart as he is cunning and his extensive risk taking is starting to pay off. The problem being, Duddy is a shithead con-artist who does not care about anyone but himself. A trouble-maker from a young age, Duddy wants to prove everyone wrong no matter what the cost. Before he has even turned 18, Duddy is trying to increase reputation and his finances to get that perfect plot of land. duddysmposter04 Despite Duddy’s extensive faults, there is an admirable and likeable quality to him that almost has your rooting for him even as he uses and abuses people in his ambitious pursuits. You feel as if, maybe Duddy isn’t as terrible as his ambitions make him and deep down he is a good person. From his obnoxious and hilarious youth to the hard working days of his early adulthood, Duddy befriends and makes enemies with a variety of characters that contribute to his overall success at the end of the novel. However, the success has come at a steep price, one that even Duddy has to question in the end.  I know that even I was a bit bothered, on both ends, when his relationships and friendships fell apart. One part of me wanted things to work out for Duddy and the other part of me wanted to scream at his friends to GTFO.

Richler does magic work with Duddy’s character in getting you, as a reader, to love and hate him. So that even when Duddy does something horribly selfish, you are not surprised and still keep reading to see if Duddy’s ridiculously ambitious and often crude plans come to fruition. The book balances the themes of greed and ambition perfectly, as well as encompassing a snapshot history of Montreal in the 1940s and 1950s. Richler also details some of the current views held on Jewish people during this time as well as some of the political stances of the local French-Canadians. The plot is mixed with humour, cigars, alcohol, and a little bit of violence here and there, making the book not only interesting but somewhat exciting as well.

I can’t say this book would be for everyone but if you enjoy a little of debauchery and can tolerate a less than likeable protagonist out of the sake of your own ambitious curiosity than this book might be for you.