Richler, Mordecai 1931–
Richler is a Canadian novelist, screenwriter, essayist, short story writer, and children's book author who combines humor and satire with a strong moral and historical sense to create his interpretation of Jewish and Canadian experience; George Woodcock calls him "the essential Canadian." Richler is best known for The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, the story of a Montreal boy's attempt to outfox society. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 5, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68.)
[Hunting Tigers Under Glass is a collection of] a bundle of essays, reports and reviews on a variety of topics not immediately likely to fit together: Canada and sport, various forms of pop literature and art, Jewish-American writing, and Israel. The focus is Mordecai Richler himself. "After all, I'm a Jewish writer from Canada," he says. But so is Saul Bellow [sic]; and the book, on internal evidence alone, is not by him. The pieces, bitter-sweet and often very funny, form a kind of instant biography of reminiscence, observation and opinion: even when writing a fictional review of Malamud or Mailer, Mr. Richler usually turns the occasion into one for idiosyncrasy and recollection.
Moreover, they are written from a number of wry angles, some of them coming from Mr. Richler's intelligently common sense radical view of two forms of provincialism he knows very well indeed, the Jewish and the Canadian: and some from the fact that for a Jewish novelist he has taken the unpredictable tack of finding his cosmopolis not in New York but in London. More still come from the fact that the pieces address heterodox reading-publics…. (p. 117)
It all seems to go to show that it is, as they say, hard to know who one is nowadays: but actually Mr. Richler knows very well. He is a confessed product of the 1940s, when one was interested in pop not because it was camp but because it was what there was, just as he says as a student he and his friends had sex in the afternoon not because they were radical or alienated but because they were horny…. [With] confident opinionation he cuts through the glossy romanticisms and belaboured intellectual worries in the interests of establishing the real feel of the thing.
The three essays on Canada and Canadianism here (while not as good as his brilliant treatment of the same thing in his novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz) have some of the best insights into provincial cosmopolitanism, mainly because Mr. Richler observes, collects and remembers the essential data with at once an ironic and a sympathetic vision. The basic tactic of compassion and irony is very funny and it brings him right into the middle of the enclaves of kitsch. (p. 118)
The targets are never too easy since Mr. Richler is fully involved—as the Canadian-Jewish good-bad boy of the 1940s who himself went through both the bourgeois and the intellectual apprenticeship…. The kids on the block and what became of them through the past twenty years of complex history really form the theme that runs behind these pieces. The time is one in which it became easier to be a Jew (and Mr. Richler is excellent on the inept touchiness of hard-core Jewish culture, which he has constantly offended). (pp. 118-19)
But easier can be harder. Mr. Richler is a writer of ironies, detachment, and comic involvements rather than a voice of exile or anomaly; but one can see in his writings why the Jewish writer or intellectual might have gone a good deal deeper into self-doubt. In a critically sharp review of Malamud's The Fixer, he points out the way in which the Jewish writer tends, his modern experience being now pretty well on file in the Jewish-American efflorescence of the 1950s, to hark back to origins, to the shtetl or the archetypal pogrom. Mr. Richler himself holds to the fascination of ordinary origins, and comes out as a grand supra-provincial….
This is a lively book, the more illuminating if you consider Mordecai Richler, and he goes on giving us more and more grounds for thinking so, an important novelist. And it is a usefully oblique insight into a body of experience that the Jewish-American novelists have gone through with more tension and bravura, but with a good deal less irony and humour. (p. 119)
"On the Block," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1969; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), January 23, 1969 (and reprinted in Mordecai Richler, edited by G. David Sheps, McGraw-Hill Company, 1971, pp. 117-19).
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