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Barney's Versionby Mordecai Richler
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
1. To what does the title Barney's Version refer?
2. The memoirs have three sections, one for each wife. What do you make of this structure? Why are these women the dividing points in Barney's life?
3. What does Barney see in the second Mrs. Panofsky? Why doesn't she have a name?
4. Barney is perverse, disagreeable, and vulgar. Do you like him despite his negative characteristics? Why or why not?
5. Barney says, "Never tell the truth. Caught out, lie like a trooper." How does this belief add to the irony of the novel? Can you ever believe Barney? How true is memory in most cases?
6. Barney's son Michael adds the footnotes to his father's writing. Describe Michael's character. What motivates him to footnote the memoirs?
7. Barney really loves his last wife Miriam. What in his character makes him cheat on her?
8. When new evidence about Boogie's murder is presented, Micheal asks his father's lawyer for the truth: did Barney do it? The lawyer responds, "The truth is he was your father." What does that mean?
9. Very close to the end of the novel, Michael says his father's philosophy was: "Life was absurd, and nobody ever truly understood anybody else." Do you think Richler is being ironic — especially considering the very last scene of the book — or expressing his own beliefs about life?
10. Richler is known as one of our best contemporary satirists. What are some of the things he satirizes in this book?
11. This book is in part about aging and dying. How does Barney face both?
Q: In an interview twenty-rive years ago, you said, "Like most serious novelists," you had "one or two ideas and many variations to play on them." What did you mean by a "serious novelist"?
A: Somebody who doesn't merely entertain, but writes from a moral stance.
Q: Would you tell us about at least one of the "one or two ideas" or themes that dominate your fiction — and how it applies to Barney's Version?
A: I resist following my novels with suitcases full of explanations.
Q: The novel's closing explanation for Boogie's death would be a masterful denouement for any mystery novel. When did you think up this ending...before or after you began to write the novel?
A: It came to me one morning and I was grateful.
Q: Your writing has evolved since The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. What do you see as some of the biggest changes?
A: More complexity. Enriched irony.
Q: Some might see this novel as somewhat of a morality play — sinners are punished, the truth perhaps emerges, and a cosmic justice prevails. Is this cosmic balance a luxury of fiction, or do you think there is an eventual accounting for one's behavior in real life, too?
Q: You have been criticized for writing caricatures rather than complex portrayals of your women characters. Do you think that criticism is accurate — or does your satire demand a broad stroke?
A: I do my best.
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