Monday, February 25, 2013

6th challenge - 15th review - Barney's Version

I admit, I moved this up in my tbr pile based on John's strong recommendation.  And then fortuitously, it was right there in my local library, so I grabbed it before a cross-country trip with a lot of flying time.  So I managed to read it over a week -- a bit better than my current average for longish books.  (I used to read 100-200 pages a day, but that was when I had fewer responsibilities...)  I have not watched the movie version, but I may some day, though to be honest, it strikes me that there are far too many parallels to Sideways for my liking.  And some of the changes made to the film (that I've read about) seem pretty crazy, particularly Izzy being around to interfere in the murder inquest, which definitely didn't happen in the book.

I have mixed feelings about the book.  There were quite a number of funny passages, but on the whole, I really wasn't enamoured of the way Richler manipulated the reader's feelings/emotions to try to make us feel sorry for (and perhaps even like) this fairly unpleasant man.  I do have one "impossible" friend on the fringes of my life, but for the most part, I really don't see what is so charming about Barney.  He never seems to really interact with the kids when they were small, and was drunk most of the time when he was finally home from work and hanging around them, so why they would have any real interest in him as they became adults is beyond me.  I guess I've never really overcome my Puritanical streak in the sense that I just don't like art that glamourizes drunkards and/or drug-users.  They are never as amusing as they think they are, esp. those that indulge in mean-spirited pranks as Barney does constantly.

It certainly does strike me that Barney is a stand-in for Richler himself, who was often described as a bit of a boor, particularly on the subject of French-Canadian relations with the rest of Canada.  I know it is such a cop out, but it just strikes me that if someone is so unhappy about being an Anglophile surrounded by Francophiles, then it behooves that person to relocate from Montreal to Toronto.  That's the more reasonable course of action, rather than fighting a pointless rear-guard action of insulting the Quebecois and trying to snub them by only printing signs in English or what have you.  It is all very childish on both sides of course (Quebec's language laws), but again, I just don't have much time for, interest in or sympathy for quixotic characters.  Life does strike me as too short.  


One thing that didn't work that well for me was how Duddy Kravitz got dropped into the novel, as someone who gives some advice to Barney.  I just thought it was an unnecessary detail in a book that was already a bit too long.

What I did find interesting was Barney being a fairly unreliable narrator, both because he was too wrapped up in himself to even pretend to care about how others viewed these situations and because it became evident from maybe 1/4 of the way into the book that he was losing his memory.  I found the footnotes added by his son drily amusing, with some being unbelievably pedantic, and one or two of them seeming to include inaccuracies.  (I assume that was intentional on Richler's part.)

I thought it was reasonably effective how brusquely the book ended once Barney was shipped off to an assisted living facility.  While this would have been really drawn out and painful for the family, the son kind of wraps it up and only gives a few glimpses into what happened.  While they still seem to venerate Barney far more than he deserves, the son is the "hero" of his own story and doesn't have a hundred more pages to dedicate to Barney's declining years.  There is a lot of insight in the way this transition was handled.

I found the passages covering the years in Paris to be interesting and a bit of a nice change in focusing on very second-rate artists who were doing their slumming in Paris.  I can see how Richler loads a huge guilt trip onto Barney's shoulders with respect to his first wife, and I can see how some of Barney's actions afterwards are tied up with this terrible guilt.  I probably do take a harder line than Richler in not excusing Barney for being such an all-around jerk.  A lot of people have had bad things happen to them, or feel guilt for things that weren't entirely their fault (or even at all their fault) but that doesn't give them license to act like overgrown adolescents for the rest of their lives.

All in all, this is an interesting book about a person who I would not have allowed to come into my life.

1 comment:

  1. I did love the book, though much of it has been forgotten now. Though I know I'd never have said Barney was charming! I found him funny as a character, but as you say, not someone I'd ever admit into my real life.