Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Canadian book challenge - 9th post

Not sure how surprising this is, but I've never read an entire novel by Mordecai Richler up until now.  I actually owned a few but never got around to them before it was time to purge the shelves.  I figure I'll correct that over time now that I am up here.  I decided to start with one of his shorter, and perhaps not entirely representative, works: The Incomparable Atuk.

The novel was published in 1963.  Now the notes at the end say how the book has not dated, and while that might have been conceivably true in the 1990s (when incidentally I lived in Toronto for a year), it is starting to show its age.  I guess there are only so many times you can read variations on the same "hey look at person from Cultural Background X pull a fast one on liberal whites" before you get thoroughly sick of it.  And I've read plenty along those lines. If the entire book was about Atuk and his adventures and misadventures in Toronto, then I probably wouldn't have made it to the end.  However, the intelligentsia that meet Atuk in one party or another have their own side adventures.  Perhaps the most amusing, if somewhat unlikely, event is when a policeman poses as a woman (whose lure is subversive literature) and falls in love with a female newspaper columnist posing as a man.

Anyway, the basic plot is that Atuk is introduced to Toronto society and becomes an instant hit with his poetry.  He also brings down a bunch of relatives and has them working in a sweat shop making carvings and other Inuit art for Atuk to sell.  His father (the Ancient One?) keeps moaning about terrible things (not too dissimilar from Aunt Ada in Cold Comfort Farm).  He makes the rounds of various parties and realizes that his novelty is beginning to wear off.  He eventually agrees to be a guest contestant on a particularly sinister/cynical game show.  It is a quick read for sure and mostly entertaining, though I do feel it is starting to show some signs of wear and tear.  For a similar take on high society and low society mixing (at parties as well as in the bedroom), I enjoyed Chester Himes' Pinktoes, which is set in Harlem.  Published just 2 years prior to Atuk, it might be slightly more daring and may sustain its high spirits a bit more consistently.

This is review 9/13.


  1. I'm a fan of Mordecai Richler's, but I have to agree with what you've said in this review. It's a decent book, but somewhat dated now. My favourite Richler book is Barney's Version, though I also quite liked Cocksure.

    1. I think I recall reading you were a big fan of Barney's Version. I figure I'll get to that in a year or two, assuming I stay in Canada, that is...