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."


A classic Richler story--irreverent, ribald, mostly funny, and, on occasion, poignant. Quebec politics, Montreal, and a summer cottage star in supporting roles on a rich backdrop of references to twentieth-century history, politics, literature, and film.

Richler makes a few interesting points about mid-century male views of marriage and love, but he also gives an ironic "version" of the indignities of aging and a frank examination of the baffling prospect of dementia matched with a desire to leave one’s story. The son’s fact-checking footnotes are as self-serving as the father’s recollections, and the reader is permitted to see through both.

Barney stimulates his memory by testing his ability to find the word "colander" at intervals throughout the book. Ironic jibes at Paul de Kruif (p. 48), disease charities (p. 160), detracting trends in biography (p. 270-1), and the "mini-mental status" examination (p. 385-6) are especially pleasing, and might be excerpted with profit. The surprise ending is brilliant, and quintessentially Canadian.


This novel won the Giller Prize in 1997.


Chatto & Windus

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