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Barney's Version (Vintage International) Paperback – May 4, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Barney Panofsky smokes too many cigars, drinks too much whiskey, and is obsessed with two things: the Montreal Canadiens hockey team and his ex-wife Miriam. An acquaintance from his youthful years in Paris, Terry McIver, is about to publish his autobiography. In its pages he accuses Barney of an assortment of sins, including murder. It's time, Barney decides, to present the world with his own version of events. Barney's Version is his memoir, a rambling, digressive rant, full of revisions and factual errors (corrected in footnotes written by his son) and enough insults for everyone, particularly vegetarians and Quebec separatists.

But Barney does get around to telling his life story, a desperately funny but sad series of bungled relationships. His first wife, an artist and poet, commits suicide and becomes--à la Sylvia Plath--a feminist icon, and Barney is widely reviled for goading her toward death, if not actually murdering her. He marries the second Mrs. Panofsky, whom he calls a "Jewish-Canadian Princess," as an antidote to the first; it turns out to be a horrible mistake. The third, "Miriam, my heart's desire," is quite possibly his soul mate, but Barney botches this one, too. It's painful to watch him ruin everything, and even more painful to bear witness to his deteriorating memory. The mystery at the heart of Barney's story--did he or did he not kill his friend Boogie?--provides enough forward momentum to propel the reader through endless digressions, all three wives, and every one of Barney's nearly heartbreaking episodes of forgetfulness. Barney's Version, winner of Canada's 1997 Giller Prize, is Richler's 10th novel, and a dense, energetic, and ultimately poignant read. --R. Ellis --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

You have to like a narrator who can ask about libel after being accused "in print, of being a wife-abuser, an intellectual fraud, a purveyor of pap, a drunk with a penchant for violence, and probably a murderer as well" only to have his lawyer answer "Sounds like [the writer] got things just about right." Richler is in top form with this first-person voice of Barney Panovsky, 67-year-old TV producer at Totally Useless Productions, thrice-married (the third being the one that matters, and she's gone; the second, after being found in bed with Barney's best friend, Boogie, is the catalyst for the putative murder), fretting over liver spots and mental slippage. The book is always hilarious, but the humor is sharpened by the psychological accuracy/honesty and the richness of detail; in short, this is one well-written book. There are even footnotes to help out when Barney gets something wrong. Absolutely for all collections, this is what Barney calls his third wife: "a keeper."?Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 417 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030747688X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307476883
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #393,904 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Barney's Version is really an incredible novel. While it reads like the memoirs of a cranky, elderly Jewish Canadian who seems to hate most everything (except his last wife and their three kids), it also serves as an interesting analysis of life in Montreal over the last fifty years for the English-speaking minority, especially the enclave of its (once harassed) Jewish residents.
While the characterizations of Barney and his friends/family are top notch it is Richler's flair for biting satire and sarcastic wit which leaves the most lasting impression of Barney's Version. Joseph (Catch-22) Heller wrote novels with similar style and humour. Yet Richler's Barney has a more worldly, français feel about him compared to Heller's Brooklyn-based characters.
Bottom line: Richler presents a character that is larger than life; it's hard to believe Barney doesn't really exist. Strongly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I have been reviewing books for 25 years and I must admit that I can count on both hands the number of books I would recommend as "must reads."
But "Barney's Version", by Mordecai Richler, is definitely one of them.As a reader the same age as Barney, I laughed and cried over this wonderful character, and will love him till the day I die.
Barney is a 68 year old Jewish gentleman who has been married three times, widowed once, divorced twice, though still in love with "Miriam, my heart's desire." He had a gay (in the old meaning) youth gallivanting around Europe, then settled in America where he somehow gets charged with and tried for murder. I am a mystery buff, these chapters alone rate those five stars.
This novel is Barney's version of the dastardly deeds he has commited throughout his lifetime, and he will keep you laughing and crying and loving through the pages and through the years.
A bonus in the book is the contribution of Barney's son, Michael, who finds it necessary to footnote the book, correcting Barney here and there, as Barney's memory isn't as good as it used to be. He can never remember such important issues as the last two of the seven dwarfs, the name of that thing you drain spaghetti in, which of the big bands played "In the Mood" and who was that gorgeous brunette in Lil Abner? (You don't remember? Read the book!)
Just recalling the book tempts me to re-read it. I strongly advise you to buy a copy; don't borrow one, for you will never be able to bring yourself to part with it. Enjoy!
Teresa Bloomingdale humur@ix.netcom.com
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Format: Hardcover
This book is an intelligent, tremendously entertaining read. Mr. Richler assumes the reader is well-read, and this is challenging for some (me). Barney deserves everything he gets in life, except perhaps the final cruelty imposed upon him, as it unfolds in relation to Boogie. Still, I finished this last night, and now find myself missing Barney's perverse dissertations. Damn, Damn, Damn . . . I'm off today to buy "St. Urbain's Horseman"!
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading the (very good) Italian translation of Barney's Version. It was a long time, since I found a novel written so cleverly and with so strongly, all-round depicted characters (maybe from Bellow's Herzog?). You can't ignore Barney--you must love him, or hate him. No half-measures.
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Format: Paperback
I have to admit I was a little disappointed. It's a good read - all of Richler's work is, but it was a bit depressing to see another trip back to Europe, with associated hijinks, and then out in the Quebec countryside again, and the usual cracks. It's a good book, but I'd place it after Duddy, Horseman, Joshua and Gursky. I think Richler hated it when people complained that he was once again mining old territory, and in general, I agreed with him. As long as he crafted all those delicious sentences, plots and comic set pieces, I'd enjoy it. Nonetheless, when he finally seemed to be breaking away into new-ish territory with Gursky, I was delighted. I hoped he'd continue, but with Barney, he went back to the old routine. Fun, as always, but a tad disappointing.

Most of Richler's books have a larger-than-life, outrageous figure of some sort - the Star Maker, the Boy Wonder, the Horseman, Dr. Dr. Mueller, Solomon Gursky. In Barney, it's his buddy Boogie, who seems a fairly weak companion to the others. And everything about the novel is just a little weak compared to the other books. But maybe that's an unfair criticism. The greatness of the other novels shouldn't necessarily reflect badly on Barney. As an intro to Richler's body of work, it's a fine book, my personal reservations notwithstanding. But if you've already read most of Richler's other novels, you may be somewhat disappointed.

Four stars out of five.
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Format: Paperback
Barney Panofsky and his cohorts are all artists of sorts--writers, sculptors, painters--Jewish intellectuals at odds with mainstream Montreal life, firmly convinced that they are right, the world is wrong. Boisterous, loud, and resolute in pursuing the pleasures of drugs, alcohol, and women, they live life creatively and on their own terms, taking what they want, where and when they want it. Their cynicism, self-righteousness, and self-absorption epitomize the lives of many young adults during the fifties and sixties, when much of the action of this novel takes place, via flackbacks.

With great panache, Richler loads his complex narrative with pungent satire and wry humor as he shows Barney near the end of his life, reflecting on his three marriages and divorces, his affairs, his career as a producer of second rate films and ads, his drinking, and his trial for the murder of his best friend, some thirty years before. Throughout the novel, Richler teases the reader with tiny pieces of information about the murder, creating suspense at the same time that he tamps it down with humor or neutralizes it by burying it in the mundane details of Barney's life over the span of forty years.

Certainly not a traditional murder mystery, the reader never receives the clues necessary to solve the murder until the last pages of the book. But solving the murder is hardly the point. This is Barney's story--the story of an exasperating and sometimes annoying man almost totally lacking in charm, a man who has spent a good part of his life avoiding responsibility. Now in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, Barney is an unreliable narrator, trying valiantly to set down his version of what happened to Boogie Moscovich.
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