Mordecai Richler

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Barney's Version

Richler, Mordecai

Last Updated: Dec-14-2009
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


Barney Panofsky--like so many of Richler’s protagonists (and like Richler himself, one suspects)--is a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, foul-mouthed, hedonistic writer and producer. He has many sexual exploits in his past and loads of self doubt in his present, together with digitalis and dentures.

But there was only one true love in his life, although he has had three wives: Clara a mysterious artist-poetess whose suicide in Paris helped to establish his fame; "the second Mrs. Panofsky" whom he loathed for all of their short time together; and Miriam, mother of his three children and his partner for decades, until Barney blows it with presumptuous inattention culminating in a vain indiscretion, and she leaves.

Since the end of his second marriage, Barney has lived under the shadow of the unproven accusation of having murdered his best friend, Bernard "Boogie" Moscovitch. Supposedly, he committed the crime in a drunken rage provoked by his discovery of Boogie in flagrante with "the second Mrs Panofsky." Barney may have been drunk, but he didn’t do it. At least, he doesn’t remember doing it.

Barney’s "version" is an autobiographical account written in old age, and annotated with footnotes by his priggish and obsessive son. It is Barney’s side of the murder and his life, and it leads up to and devolves from that fateful evening when, far from being angry, he felt joy in a bedroom scene that would be his ticket to live with Miriam.

He recalls drinking with Boogie and their going for a swim. But he alone still expects to see Boogie stride through the door. Everyone else, including his children, believe that he was the killer, spared imprisonment because Boogie’s body was never found. The weight of Barney’s guilt waxes and wanes.

But remembering anything is increasingly difficult for Barney. He fears dementia. As its specter looms over his memories, it raises doubt about the veracity of his "version."

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