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.

 

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Science fiction often gets a bad rap so it is nice to see great stories, regardless of genre, getting the attention they deserve.

A company town is a place where practically all stores and housing are owned by the one company that is also the main employer. – Wikipedia

3/5 stars.
ebook,  241 pages.
Read from March 1, 2017 to March 7, 2017.

Book number three out of the Canada Reads 2017 five shortlist nominees. This science fiction novel was a nice change of pace from the general fiction genre that normally dominates Canada Reads. Science fiction often gets a bad rap so it is nice to see great stories, regardless of genre, getting the attention they deserve.

Hwa lives in a company town. Almost everyone does these days. Hwa is different than the rest of the people living in the rig as she is nearly completely organic. In the future people use bionics and engineering to enhance their bodies, looks and health. Hwa is a bodyguard for the sex workers on the rig and she is very good at what she does. Having a spiteful mother and upbringing, in combination with the loss of her brother as well as her skills in taekwondo, has given Hwa rough persona, making her an ideal bodyguard. Her skills do not go unnoticed and she is soon asked to be the bodyguard to the heir of the Lynch family who own the large company that owns the town. The Lynch’s are strange and all of their hopes are on this one boy that Hwa must take care of. Soon after she starts this new job watching the Lynch boy,  people she knows start to be murdered in a horrific fashion. Faced with questions about the involvement of the Lynch family and the murders of her friends, Hwa risks her life to find the truth about what is really going on her in her company town.

Hwa is a fantastic character. I only wish that there were more like her: strong, smart, brave (all in the masculine sense too) and she can kick some serious ass. Her Korean heritage was a great addition too. Even the romance that evolves in the story suited me. I actually enjoyed it. It was subtle and didn’t detract from the main story. There is nothing I hate more when an intriguing story is taken over by a lame romance so this novel made me very happy in that aspect.

However I felt that this novel was not as well executed as it could have been. It took me a while to figure out what was going on with all the bionics and tech in the beginning. Additionally, the killer in the story, while not who I expected, did not feel like an important enough character through the book to have such a pinnacle role. I felt confused and disappointed at the end in that sense. I actually had to go back and reread a few parts because I wasn’t even sure how he came into play through the story.

While I feel there are important themes in this books, especially in relation to how massive the oil companies and rigs are in Canada, I don’t feel it has the same potency as the other two books that I have read so far and does not meet the Canada Reads 2017 question (What book do Canadians need now?) as well as the others.

Overall this is a great book for those interested in strong female protagonists and the science-fiction genre.

Truth and Bright Water by Thomas King

Aimed at the question of what it means to be be a Native American in present day, this novel also addresses aspects of the unique problems that face Native Americans the perceptions that many people have of them.

3/5 stars.
Read from October 18 to 25, 2016.
Paperback, 288 pages.

Okay, I will admit it. I was suppose to read this book back in my Canadian lit class while I was still in university but I didn’t. I had about five novels a week to get through for a full year so this is one of the ones that just didn’t find the time to read.

A river, is the border that separates the small American town of Truth from the Canadian reserve of Bright Water, yet the two communities are very much connected as there are very few reasons to stay in these desolate towns.Tecumseh is a youth living in Truth and he is getting excited as the Indian Days are coming, which means that a mass of tourists will visit and buy what they believe to be symbolic Native American merchandise. Tecumseh’s cousin Lum is eager to win the the running race that takes place during Indian Days and is certain that he will win. However, this year is not going to be like the others. Tecumseh’s Aunt Cassie has returned and is being given all of his old baby clothes. The mysterious and very eccentric Monroe Swimmer, a local who left and found fame as Native artist in Toronto, has also returned with a peculiar art project aimed at bring the buffalo back to the plains. And why is Lum so eager to run as fast as he can? As Tecumseh has more questions than answers about the on-goings of the adults in his life and each new circumstance forces him to grow up a little bit quicker.

Aimed at the question of what it means to be be a Native American in present day, this novel also addresses aspects of the unique problems that face Native Americans the perceptions that many people have of them. I can see why this novel was picked for my Canadian literature class. After finishing the book I felt very neutral on it and neither liked or disliked it but having reflected on it afterwards the content of the book stops being so subtle. While I am not sure I appreciate King’s writing style as much as others he is very good at developing subtle stories with poignant messages. The Native Americans are reduces to selling trinkets at fairs to appease what people believe them to still be when in reality they are a group of people who are not longer living the way people imagine them to be. People idolize the “dead Indian (a term used by King in his book “Inconvenient Indian“) and idea of a people that never really existed where the live and legal Indians are living a life that goes unnoticed, and much of it with unnecessary hardship.

While this book didn’t sweep me off my feet by any means I am glad I finally got around to reading it. I would recommend this book to those interested in the continuing story of the Native American people.