Richler leaves fans in stitches

By Bethany Harpur

A packed house was in stitches at the National Library Wednesday, Oct. 8 as renowned Canadian author Mordecai Richler read from his latest novel, Barney’s Version.

Chock full of sexual witticisms and sarcastic remarks, the reading tour introduced the public to Richler’s first novel in eight years, a novel that is currently number one on the best seller list and has been nominated for the Giller award in its first three weeks on the market.

“On the whole, people seem to be enjoying it, and it’s been getting good reviews,” said Jennifer Tiller, an independent Ottawa publicist. “So far, so good.”

That alone would bring a smile to most faces, but Richler remained deadpan throughout the evening, despite the ongoing commentary from the novel that kept the crowd in hysterics.

“You have reached the Montreal General Hospital,” Richler droned as he read from the book.
“If you have a touchtone phone. . press number seventeen for service in the language of les maudits anglais, or number twelve for service en francais, the glorious language of our oppressed collectivity.”
The crowd again roared with appreciative guffaws.

“He’s becoming more cynical. . . there’s an undertone that is not as positive-looking as he used to be,” said Odile Waslander, a member of the audience. “I see new development in his work.”

The tale of Barney Panofsky is both a love story and murder mystery that spans over the last half of this century.

Barney, the multi-millionaire owner of Totally Unnecessary Productions, is desperately trying to develop his own set of memoirs before his rival does it for him — revealing the ugly truth about his three wives and how he is suspected of murdering his best friend.

Richler, in a question-and-answer period after the show, said creating Barney was very demanding.
“You try and make it different each time,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever written a novel in the first person. The difficulty was finding the voice, and once I found it, I just ran with it.

“I don’t know it I’d ever do it again, but it was fun to do once,” he added.

And the end result was Barney, a vulgar whiskey drinker and cigar smoker who laments the past, complains about the present and wakes in the middle of the night wondering what that “whatchamacallit used to strain spaghetti is called,” as Richler read from the novel’s first chapter.

The audience, made up mostly of Richler’s own generation, related instantly, chuckling among themselves.

Several people were invited to speak after the reading and shared their insight on the new novel and its author.

“He’s a great writer, but deep down he’s a dirty old man,” joked Dan Turner, quoting a tribute from his 84-year-old mother. The audience erupted again into gales of laughter.

And the stone-faced Richler cracked his first — and only — smile of the night.