Mordecai Richler Richler, Mordecai (Vol. 185) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mordecai Richler 1931-2001

Canadian novelist, essayist, critic, screenwriter, short story writer, editor, memoirist, and children's writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Richler's career through 2002. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 3, 5, 9, 13, 18, 46, and 70.

One of the most prominent figures in contemporary Canadian literature, Richler was best known for his darkly humorous novels in which he examines such diverse topics as Canadian society, Jewish culture, Quebec nationalism, the adverse effects of materialism, and relationships between individuals from different socio-economic backgrounds. A skilled and unrelenting satirist, Richler left Canada at the age of twenty, living as an expatriate in Europe for more than twenty years. However, a large majority of his fiction is set within the Jewish section of Montreal where he was raised, exploring the characteristics that define Jewish and Canadian self-identity. The typical Richler protagonist is an alienated, morally disillusioned individual who finds stability and inner-knowledge difficult to attain. Though known primarily for his novels, in his later years, Richler's critical works attracted considerable attention—his essay collection Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country (1992) inspired a virulent national debate in Canada regarding the self-sovereignty of Quebec.

Biographical Information

Richler was born in Montreal, Quebec, on January 27, 1931. He was raised in a community dominated by the first large wave of Jewish immigrants to settle in Canada, those who fled from Russia during the massacres that followed the Russo-Japanese War. Though he received a traditional Jewish upbringing, Richler abandoned his family's orthodox customs in his teens. Richler entered Sir George Williams University in 1949, but dropped out two years later, citing the belief that academia would distort and exhaust his creativity. In 1951 Richler left Canada and sailed to Liverpool, England. He worked as a freelance writer in Paris from 1952 to 1953, returning briefly to Montreal in 1952. After the publication of his first novel, The Acrobats (1954), Richler settled in England, where he would live until 1972. During this period, Richler continued to compose essays and novels which focused largely on his Jewish and Canadian heritage. In 1960 he married Florence Wood, with whom he had five children. He returned to Sir George Williams University to serve as a writer-in-residence from 1968 to 1979 and edited an anthology of Canadian fiction, Canadian Writing Today, in 1970. In 1972 Richler moved back to Montreal permanently, writing extensively about Canadian politics and culture, particularly the Quebec separatist movement during the 1990s. His vocal criticism of often-taboo political issues made Richler a Canadian national celebrity, frequently appearing in magazines and on television. Throughout his career, Richler has been awarded numerous honors, including the Governor General's Literary Award for Cocksure (1968), Hunting Tiger under Glass: Essays and Reports (1969), and St. Urbain's Horseman (1971). He was nominated for an Academy Award and the Screenwriters Guild of America award for his screenplay adaptation of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959) and won the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award for his children's book Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1975). Solomon Gursky Was Here (1989) received the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1990, and Barney's Version (1997) was awarded the Giller Prize in 1997. Richler died of complications from cancer on July 3, 2001, in Montreal.

Major Works

Richler's first novel, The Acrobats, is devoid of the humor prevalent throughout his later works. Set in post-World War II Spain, the book recounts the experiences of André Bennett, a young Canadian expatriate trying to overcome his guilt caused by the suicide of his pregnant Jewish girlfriend in Montreal. Richler's next two novels, Son of a Smaller Hero (1955) and A Choice of Enemies (1957), evidence a progression toward a more satirically humorous tone. In Son of a Smaller Hero, Richler recreates the Jewish community of his childhood, chronicling Noah Adler's attempts to liberate himself from the religious, economic, and familial pressures of his past. As the novel ends, Noah departs for Europe, still searching for a sense of personal identity. Richler's stark, unsympathetic depiction of Jewish culture in the novel drew charges of anti-Semitism, a reaction provoked by several of his subsequent works. A Choice of Enemies focuses on Norman Price, who, like many of Richler's protagonists, is faced with a moral dilemma. Living in London with a group of American and Canadian expatriate artists, Norman must ally himself either with his bohemian friends or with a young communist whom the expatriates ostracize. Norman eventually realizes that both options are undesirable.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz established Richler as a major literary figure and internationally recognized humorist. Frequently compared in theme and plot to Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run?, the novel chronicles Duddy Kravitz's rise from Montreal ghetto-dweller to prominent landowner. Although Duddy is driven by greed and his means of acquiring land are ruthless and exploitative, Richler depicts the surrounding Montreal society as equally immoral. Richler followed The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz with two caustic satires—The Incomparable Atuk (1963) and Cocksure. In The Incomparable Atuk, Richler derides the materialistic values of contemporary society through the experiences of an Innuit poet who achieves wealth and popularity when his work appears in a series of Canadian advertisements. Cocksure, a black comedy that ridicules popular culture and the entertainment industry, details an unscrupulous movie mogul's takeover of a British publishing company. Several Canadian and British booksellers refused to carry Cocksure, claiming that certain passages were overly graphic and offensive. In St. Urbain's Horseman, Richler returns to the less trenchant humor of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, detailing the life of Jake Hersh, an affluent man who believes that his success is largely unmerited. To relieve his sense of disillusionment and remorse, Jake fantasizes that his cousin Joey is the Horseman, a fictional heroic figure committed to fighting Jewish oppression. Richler's next novel, Joshua Then and Now (1980), is composed of extensive flashbacks describing the prominent events and personal crises in the life of Joshua Shapiro, a prominent Jewish-Canadian author. By depicting Joshua's marriage to an upper-class Gentile, Richler explores problems inherent in relationships between individuals of different upbringings and social positions. Reuben Shapiro, Joshua's smooth-talking father, is regarded as one of Richler's finest comic creations.

The winner of the 1990 Commonwealth Prize, Solomon Gursky Was Here chronicles more than one hundred years of Canadian history, documenting the Gursky family's rise to power and wealth. Utilizing flashbacks and a shifting narrative, Richler traces the Gursky lineage from Ephraim, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who was the only surviving member of an expedition searching for the Northwest Passage, to Bernard, the president of a liquor dynasty in modern Montreal. The narrator of the novel, Moses Berger, is a self-appointed biographer who becomes obsessed with the Gurskys and attempts to discredit their reputation as respectable community leaders. After investigating the mysterious disappearance of Solomon, one of Ephraim's sons, Berger becomes convinced that Solomon is still alive and has secretly participated in such monumental political schemes as the plot to kill Adolf Hitler, the Watergate burglary, and the Israeli raid on Entebbe. Berger, however, eventually abandons his work when he realizes his discoveries make him sound like a lunatic. Although Solomon Gursky Was Here is often viewed as a parody of the historical saga genre due to the mythic quality of its eccentric characters, the novel also explores the repercussions of greed, revenge, and betrayal. Richler's last novel, Barney's Version, is a fictional memoir of Barney Parnofsky, a Jewish writer living in Montreal. Narrated in the first person, Barney describes his three marriages, the founding of his television company (Totally Useless Productions), and his best friend's mysterious death, which Barney may have inadvertently caused. As the memoir progresses, the reader begins to recognize Barney as an unreliable narrator after he admits that he is prone to embellishments and may be developing Alzheimer's disease.

Among Richler's nonfiction works, a majority focus on his native country and his identity as a Canadian—though each book serves a distinctly different thematic purpose. Home Sweet Home: My Canadian Album (1984), for example, explores the defining elements of Canadian culture, addressing subjects from Canadian patriotism to ice hockey. In Richler's most controversial polemic work, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country, Richler turns his attention to the problem of Quebec separatism, a delicate political issue in Canada. Richler's essays condemn the province of Quebec for rampant nationalism and a history of anti-Semitism. In response, the Quebec government denounced Richler as a racist and some government officials suggested banning the book. This Year in Jerusalem (1994) is primarily concerned with examining Richler's identity as a Canadian Jew—a theme also present in Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! The essays in This Year in Jerusalem blend Richler's remembrances of growing up in the Montreal Jewish community with descriptions of his visits to Israel, where he questions some Western Jews' decision to emigrate to the Zionist state. Richler's final two essay collections, Dispatches from the Sporting Life (2001) and On Snooker: The Game and the Characters Who Play It (2001) recount the author's reflections on such sports as ice hockey, fishing, bodybuilding, and pocket billiards.

Critical Reception

Though sometimes faulted for excessive vulgarity, throughout his career, Richler has developed a reputation as one of the most skilled humorists of twentieth-century fiction. Critics have consistently lauded Richler's ability to create comedy within family situations and his barbed satiric perspective on modern culture. However, several members of the Canadian-Jewish community—frequent targets of Richler's comedic vision—have condemned the author's works as degrading and anti-Semitic. Commentators have debated these assertions with some arguing that it is impossible for Richler to be truly anti-Semitic—being that he is Jewish himself—and noting that Richler's parodies are inspired by his personal life rather than a critical agenda. Rachel Feldhay Brenner has commented that his biting social commentary polarizes audiences, noting that “Richler's vacillations and his ambivalent world picture point to his inability to establish a true bond with either Jewish community or the Gentile society.” Out of Richler's collections of essays and criticism, none have attracted the attention of Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!, which has both been praised and reviled in Richler's native Canada. While a number of reviewers have viewed the work as a frank and engaging look at the history of Quebec politics, others have lambasted Richler's essays as prejudiced, bigoted, and inflammatory. Some critics who agreed with the dominant themes in Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! have argued that the collection's bitter and rancorous tone makes it difficult to support the author's admittedly intelligent insights. Overall, despite the controversy surrounding his work, scholars have continued to regard Richler as one of the defining Canadian authors of the past century.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Acrobats (novel) 1954

Son of a Smaller Hero (novel) 1955

A Choice of Enemies (novel) 1957

Insomnia Is Good for You [with Lewis Greifer] (screenplay) 1957

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (novel) 1959

The Incomparable Atuk (novel) 1963; also published as Stick Your Neck Out, 1963

Cocksure (novel) 1968

Hunting Tiger under Glass: Essays and Reports (essays) 1969

The Street: Stories (short stories) 1969

Canadian Writing Today [editor] (short stories) 1970


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Rachel Feldhay Brenner (essay date 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Brenner, Rachel Feldhay. “Mordecai Richler in the Context of Canadian Jewish Writers' Response to the Holocaust: A. M. Klein, Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen, and Adele Wiseman.” In Assimilation and Assertion: The Response to the Holocaust in Mordecai Richler's Writing, pp. 167-205. New York: Peter Lang, 1989.

[In the following essay, Brenner compares Richler's dualistic representation of the Jewish response to the Holocaust in his fiction and nonfiction with the works of A. M. Klein, Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen, and Adele Wiseman.]

Mordecai Richler's representation of the Jewish response to the Holocaust in his fiction and his direct response in his...

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Robert Fulford (review date 21 June 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fulford, Robert. “Canada, From Inside and Out.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (21 June 1992): 3, 9.

[In the following review, Fulford evaluates the controversy resulting from Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country, calling the book “disorganized and rambling.”]

There are more French Canadians alive now than ever before, and they possess more wealth and power than at any point in the past; yet their politics is based on the profoundly held belief that they are in danger of disappearing into the fog of history like some preliterate tribe of the Amazon. They see themselves, all 6.2 million of them, succumbing to the demographic...

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Rick Marin (review date 6 July 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Marin, Rick. “Maple Leaf Rag.” National Review 44, no. 13 (6 July 1992): 52-4.

[In the following review, Marin commends Richler's wit and cynicism in Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country.]

I met my first Québecois language Nazi at a French immersion course in Cap Rouge, a hamlet outside Quebec City occupied that summer by high-school students from Canada's Anglophone provinces. Guy was the fascist Francophone's name, and whenever he heard one of us utter un mot anglais, he barked a rebuke and issued a demerit. Later, in 1980, I was an undergraduate at McGill University in Montreal, “the Paris of Canada.” My French was as good as...

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Harold M. Waller (review date 13 July 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Waller, Harold M. “The Folly of Independence.” New Leader 75, no. 9 (13 July 1992): 18-19.

[In the following favorable review, Waller provides a critical reading of the controversial subject matter of Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country, focusing on Richler's charges of anti-Semitism.]

Despite its proximity, Canada tends to be neglected in the United States. Of the Americans who do know it, probably few regard it as a funny place (although it has produced a fair share of comic talent). Mordecai Richler's highly controversial book, the subject of an abundance of newspaper articles and anguished outpourings in his native land, should...

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Paul Delany (review date 20 August 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Delany, Paul. “Vivre Comme Chien et Chat.” London Review of Books 14, no. 16 (20 August 1992): 12.

[In the following review, Delany contends that Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country presents several important insights but notes that “the case for Quebec nationalism needs to be answered more seriously and scrupulously than Richler cares to do.”]

The population of Québec is about seven million, all of them minorities. The Jews, for whom Mordecai Richler makes his complaint (though not only for them), are outnumbered by 11 to one in the English-speaking community. The English are outnumbered five to one by the French, but the...

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Andro Linklater (review date 26 September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Linklater, Andro. “Your Tongue Shall Be Split.” Spectator 269, no. 8568 (26 September 1992): 44.

[In the following review, Linklater compliments Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country as an “impassioned” critique of Quebec's history and politics.]

Perched on top of stridently excitable Americans and shrilly excitable Mexicans, and heaven knows what other excitements below the belt in South America, Canada has always conjured up the sort of cerebral kindliness you associate with Anglican vicars. Perhaps it lacked a certain definition—Air Canada, after all, promises to fly you to ‘A Land of Possibilities’ rather than one of...

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Barry Cooper (review date December 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cooper, Barry. Review of Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!: Requiem for a Divided Country, by Mordecai Richler. American Spectator 25, no. 12 (December 1992): 71-2.

[In the following review, Cooper argues that Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! is a useful study of Quebec nationalism and recent Canadian politics, commenting that Richler's criticisms are the “only appropriate response of a concerned citizen in a democracy.”]

Canadians are prey to many myths, but the most important of them is that what makes us truly, uniquely, profoundly etc. Canadian is Quebec. Two peoples, working in two languages, together, building on the northern half of the continent a more...

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Ada Craniford (essay date 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Craniford, Ada. “Solomon Gursky Was Here: Fiction or Fact?” In Fiction and Fact in Mordecai Richler's Novels, pp. 115-35. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992.

[In the following essay, Craniford surveys the critical reaction to Solomon Gursky Was Here and investigates Richler's inspirations for the Gursky family. Craniford notes that the “most compelling quality of Richler's novel is the fact that it is based on and made out of other works of fact and fiction.”]

In Mordecai Richler's ninth novel [Solomon Gursky Was Here], the Gurskys are here there and everywhere. The book celebrates and parodies not only the Jewish...

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David Rieff (review date 30 October 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rieff, David. “A Special Relationship.” Washington Post Book World 24, no. 44 (30 October 1994): 11.

[In the following review, Rieff commends Richler's complex and poignant characterizations in This Year in Jerusalem but faults the work for its excessive political commentary and cursory travel narrative.]

It seems that for the young Mordecai Richler, growing up Canadian and Jewish in Montreal in the 1940s, the three great consuming passions were baseball, girls and Zionism. He was raised, he writes, “in homes where the pushke, the blue-and-white coin-collection boxes for the Jewish National Fund to buy land in … Israel, squatted on the...

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J. B. Kelly (review date 19 December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kelly, J. B. “Holy Lands.” National Review 46, no. 24 (19 December 1994): 56-7.

[In the following review, Kelly criticizes the incoherent and disjointed structure of This Year in Jerusalem, labelling the book as “an exercise in self-justification.”]

It was only when I was halfway through reading Mordecai Richler's book [This Year in Jerusalem] that I began to understand why I was so uncomfortable with it: why its structure is all over the place, why its constituent parts hang so awkwardly together, and why the whole seems pervaded by an air of maudlin introspection. It is because in large measure it is an expiatory work, an exercise in...

(The entire section is 790 words.)

Edward Alexander (review date January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Alexander, Edward. “Bad Trip.” Commentary 99, no. 1 (January 1995): 82-5.

[In the following review, Alexander offers a negative assessment of Richler's “lazy” intellectual tone in This Year in Jerusalem.]

Mordecai Richler first came to prominence by virtue of two novels set among the Jews of Montreal. The first, Son of a Smaller Hero (1959), recounts the struggle of its hero, Noah Adler, to free himself from the prejudices and limitations of the Jewish community; the second, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959), later made into a movie, is a rags-to-riches story, formulaic but also satiric (it was reviled in some parts of the Jewish...

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Geoffrey Wheatcroft (review date 22 January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wheatcroft, Geoffrey. “Lingering Questions.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (22 January 1995): 4, 7.

[In the following review, Wheatcroft compares This Year in Jerusalem with Glenn Frankel's Beyond the Promised Land, calling them both “complementary and absorbing” books.]

Just 100 years ago, in late 1894, a French army officer of Jewish extraction was arrested, tried and falsely convicted of treason. The trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, and his formal degradation on a barracks square in front of a mob that shouted “Death to the Jews!” was witnessed by the Paris correspondent of a Vienna newspaper. Months later, Theodor Herzl wrote...

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Norman Ravvin (review date winter 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ravvin, Norman. “What I'm Doing Here.” Canadian Literature 151 (winter 1996): 191-93.

[In the following review, Ravvin contrasts the portrayals of Jerusalem in This Year in Jerusalem and Bronwyn Drainie's My Jerusalem, commenting that Drainie's work is the more journalistic and objective of the two.]

Amos Oz has written of the “Jerusalem stillness which can be heard, if you listen for it, even in the noisiest street.” Like the famous Jerusalem light, it may take very sensitive instruments to pick up such sublime sensations. To most of us, Jerusalem is a fascinating enigma—constantly in the news, beloved of Jews, Arabs, evangelists and...

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D. J. Enright (review date 5 September 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Enright, D. J. “Larger than Life.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4927 (5 September 1997): 21.

[In the following review, Enright discusses Richler's characterization in Barney's Version and compliments the novel's lean narrative pace.]

[In Barney's Version] Terry McIver, a former friend and fellow Montrealer, is about to expose Barney Panofsky as a wife-abuser, an intellectual fraud, a purveyor of pap and probably a murderer. In reply, and notwithstanding his lawyer's opinion that McIver isn't far wrong, Barney resolves to set out the true story of his “wasted life”. His entrepreneurial beginnings were humble: importing French cheese and...

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Francis King (review date 4 October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: King, Francis. “A Highly Amusing Shambles.” Spectator 279, no. 8827 (4 October 1997): 47-8.

[In the following review, King offers a mixed assessment of Barney's Version, arguing that “for all its defects, this unruly book about a thoroughly unruly life contains not a page without its laugh and not a paragraph without its smile.”]

The Canadian, Jewish narrator of this fictional memoir [Barney's Version], Barney Carnofsky, writing when he is beginning to show the first insidious symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, is, as he himself puts it, ‘a shrinking man with a cock that trickles’. A cynic, philanderer, boozer, adulterer, and possibly a...

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John Bemrose (review date 13 October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bemrose, John. “‘Do Not Go Gently. …’” Maclean's 110, no. 41 (13 October 1997): 76.

[In the following positive review, Bemrose regards Richler's “bitter, ironic sense of mortality” as the central theme of Barney's Version.]

Across the land, Mordecai Richler's face is almost as famous as his books. The longish hair, usually collapsing around his ears. The sad-sack eyes. The big schnoz. The older he gets, the more he resembles Golda Meir. His readers love him, hate him, and often do both—not a bad measure of success for a satirist. He has poked fun at everything from vegetarians to Quebec's language police, and in one notorious magazine article he...

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Mark Schechner (review date 29 December 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schechner, Mark. “Commissar of the Contrary.” New Leader 80, no. 19 (29 December 1997): 30-1.

[In the following review, Schechner praises Richler for creating “a delectable, side-splitting comedy of humiliation” in Barney's Version.]

At his wedding—his second—Barney Panofsky confides to a friend, “I'm in love. For the first time in my life I am truly, seriously, irretrievably in love.” His wife of less than an hour overhears this and embraces him, “And so am I honey, and so am I.” But he was not speaking of her. He was speaking of a woman he had met minutes ago and is about to flee the wedding party to pursue—to persuade her that she, and...

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Kerry McSweeney (review date winter 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McSweeney, Kerry. “Endgame Tap-Dancing.” Canadian Literature 159 (winter 1998): 188-90.

[In the following review, McSweeney offers a stylistic and thematic examination of Barney's Version.]

If old age is a shipwreck, as Charles de Gaulle claimed, then Barney Panofsky, the sixty-seven year old narrator of Mordecai Richler's latest novel, is already on the rocks. A successful producer of schlock (Canadian-financed films and Canadian television series), Barney's mid-1990s life consists of too much single-malt scotch and too many cigars, bar talk, channel surfing, health worries, and sour reflections on his wife of thirty years having left him, on the...

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Gene Lichtenstein (review date 25 January 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lichtenstein, Gene. “Memory Loss.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (25 January 1998): 6.

[In the following review, Lichtenstein discusses Richler's body of work and asserts that only the final section of Barney's Version lives up to the legacy of the author's oeuvre.]

When Mordecai Richler burst on the literary scene in 1960 with his novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, there were cheers and hosannas from critics who had “discovered” him. No less a figure than Alfred Kazin pronounced: “It comes off brilliantly.”

Actually Duddy Kravitz was Richler's fourth novel, but the unknown Jewish writer from Montreal...

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Mark Steyn (review date February 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Steyn, Mark. “Boy Meets Girl in Montreal.” New Criterion 16, no. 6 (February 1998): 67.

[In the following review of Barney's Version, Steyn lauds Richler's caustic wit and vivid depiction of Montreal.]

The first time I met Mordecai Richler was through his son Noah, a BBC producer with whom I've worked a couple of times. Richler fils had invited me over to the family home in Quebec's Eastern Townships on the day after Christmas, when Richler père presides over a vast snooker tournament of family, friends, and locals. As things turned out, I could only manage the lowest score it's possible to get on a snooker table. But then most of the...

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Thomas R. Edwards (review date 5 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Edwards, Thomas R. “Pulling Down the Temple.” New York Review of Books 45, no. 4 (5 March 1998): 40-1.

[In the following review, Edwards explores the role of memory and truth in Barney's Version.]

“I dislike most people I have ever met,” says the leading character of the latest of Mordecai Richler's tales about smart, ambitious Jewish-Canadian men at war with their culture. Barney's Version is wildly comic, but as with most good satire those who make fun of others also mock themselves. Richler's anti-heroes suffer from a kind of Samson complex, as if compelled to pull down the temple even though they are inside it at the time. Barney's...

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Meredith Dellandrea (review date fall 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dellandrea, Meredith. “Stumbling on Pride.” Essays on Canadian Writing 65 (fall 1998): 187-92.

[In the following review, Dellandrea regards Barney's Version as an unreliable memoir, praising Richler's examination of the “authority of autobiography and the reliability of academic truths.”]

With characteristic wit, Mordecai Richler explores the limits of knowing in Barney's Version. The novel is written as a memoir. It is Barney Panofsky's version of the truth, Barney says, “about me, my three wives, … the nature of my friendship with Boogie, and, of course, the scandal I will carry to my grave like a humpback” (1). However, as he...

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Mordecai Richler and Robyn Gillam (interview date 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Richler, Mordecai, and Robyn Gillam. “Versions of the Truth.” In The Power to Bend Spoons: Interviews with Canadian Novelists, edited by Beverley Daurio, pp. 141-52. Toronto, Ont.: Mercury Press, 1998.

[In the following interview, Richler discusses Canadian politics and culture, the differences between Toronto and Montreal, and the main thematic concerns of Barney's Version.]

[Gillam]: Barney's Version plunges right in, in medias res, and there's this character who starts off with a diatribe against an enemy of his, and this is why he's writing the book, and then there's this incredible stream of reminiscences and all these tiresome little...

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Steve Brzezinski (review date winter 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Brzezinski, Steve. Review of Barney's Version, by Mordecai Richler. Antioch Review 57, no. 1 (winter 1999): 104-05.

[In the following review, Brzezinski offers a laudatory assessment of Barney's Version, noting Richler's “savage wit and precisely delivered irony.”]

Known in this country principally for the coming-of-age novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Richler is one of Canada's most prolific and best-known writers. This new novel [Barney's Version], brimming with savage wit and precisely delivered irony, can only add to his already established reputation as a master of serio-comic fiction. Barney Panofsky, now 67, his...

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Branko Gorjup (review date winter 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gorjup, Branko. Review of Barney's Version, by Mordecai Richler. World Literature Today 73, no. 1 (winter 1999): 149.

[In the following review, Gorjup contends that Barney's Version is “Richler's most remarkable accomplishment to date, the work of a great master who has come to understand the pitfalls of writing, the incompleteness of the text.”]

With the publication of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz almost four decades ago, Mordecai Richler created a new hero in Canadian literature. American critic Warren Tallman saw Richler's creation as a latter-day Huck Finn, possessing a consciousness begotten in the seedy jungles of North...

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Angela Robbeson (essay date winter 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Robbeson, Angela. “Screening the Jury: Textual Strategy and Moral Response in Mordecai Richler's St. Urbain's Horseman.Critique 42, no. 2 (winter 2001): 205-17.

[In the following essay, Robbeson analyzes the function of various textual strategies in St. Urbain's Horseman, contending that each strategy provokes a specific moral judgment.]

The theme of moral judgment that is implicit in Mordecai Richler's early novels is explicit in St. Urbain's Horseman. Unlike Noah Adler and Duddy Kravitz, Jake Hersh faces more than metaphorical conviction on figurative moral charges. He stands before judge and jury, family and friends, media and...

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Anthony Wilson-Smith (essay date 16 July 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wilson-Smith, Anthony. “Richler Remembered.” Maclean's 114, no. 29 (16 July 2001): 18-19.

[In the following essay, Wilson-Smith offers a brief memorial overview of Richler's life and career.]

Say this, among many nice things, about Mordecai Richler: he knew how to have things both ways. Imagine how he might have portrayed, in one of his books, a wealthy, well-connected novelist with residences in the best part of Montreal's old Square Mile, a winter getaway around London's trendy Sloane Square and a summer refuge in that great wealthy Anglo-Quebec enclave, the Eastern Townships. Such a protagonist might have been a self-centred, utterly humourless WASP who...

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Benoit Aubin (essay date 16 July 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Aubin, Benoit. “Mordecai Was Here.” Maclean's 114, no. 29 (16 July 2001): 20-1.

[In the following essay, Aubin recounts his relationship with Richler and offers some reminiscences of Richler's life and career.]

Two different Mordecai Richlers passed away last week. CBC TV's The National opened its program on Tuesday with the death of a national icon and stayed with the story for several minutes; for Radio-Canada, the death of an important author came third in the lineup, after Slobodan Milosevic and Stockwell Day. The Montreal Gazette gave the news half of its front page, with a huge picture; La Presse mentioned the story on page 1,...

(The entire section is 1216 words.)

Mark Steyn (essay date September 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Steyn, Mark. “Mordecai Richler, 1931-2001.” New Criterion 20, no. 1 (September 2001): 123-28.

[In the following essay, Steyn characterizes Richler as a politically incorrect writer, placing him within the context of Canadian and Jewish authors.]

Mordecai Richler died on July 3, and within minutes of the announcement there was a stampede from the grand panjandrums of “CanLit” to conscript him posthumously into the ranks of “Canadian novelists.” Mordecai was a novelist who happened to be Canadian, which isn't quite the same thing, and he spent much of his life making gleeful digs about all the great writers who were, as he put it, “world famous in...

(The entire section is 3585 words.)

Brian Bethune (review date 24 June 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bethune, Brian. “Sex and Contempt.” Maclean's 115, no. 25 (24 June 2002): 26.

[In the following review, Bethune debates the quality of Richler's first novel, The Acrobats, concluding that the work is “pretty good on its own merits and full of promise for the future.”]

In 1951 Mordecai Richler, 19 years old and burning with writerly ambition, left Montreal for a two-year stay in Paris and Spain. There he completed his first novel, The Acrobats, published in 1954 and long out of print. Now reissued by McClelland & Stewart, The Acrobats takes place in Valencia in 1951, during the Spanish city's famous spring fiesta. A large cast of...

(The entire section is 548 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Anderson, Jon. “Surveying Canada's Joys and Woes.” Chicago Tribune Books (7 June 1992): 4-5.

Anderson praises Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! and provides background on the political and cultural situation in Quebec.

Drabelle, Dennis. “Canada Now and Then.” Washington Post Book World 22, no. 20 (17 May 1992): 9.

Drabelle asserts that Richler's insights in Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! are “obscured by the rancor he vents.”

Hyde, Anthony. “Anatomy of Barney.” Canadian Forum 76, no. 866 (January-February 1998): 42-3.

Hyde regards the character of...

(The entire section is 381 words.)