Barney's Version: The Book

I first came across Canadian author Mordecai Richler's novel Barney's Version when Mike showed me the trailer for the film based on the book. Paul Giamatti (one of our favorites) will portray lead character Barney Panofsky, an aging man who sets out to write his autobiography with the intention of proving he did not murder his best friend Boogie. While waiting for the movie to reach a theater near us, I decided to give the novel a try... and I really can't wait to finally see the film version!

Written as an autobiography, Barney's story is not nearly as dark as it sounds. From the adled perspective of an aged Mr. Panofsky, the reader muddles through an unreliable and sometimes confusing narrative worsened by Barney's case of Alzheimer's. While the narrative may not always be easy to follow or a joy to read, the story in itself is remarkably crafted. We follow Barney as an idealistic youth who falls in with a crowd of like-minded artists in Paris, then through his first marriage, his return to his Canadian homeland, the rise of his TV production company, two more marriages, true love, and fatherhood. As Barney jumps back and forth in time, characters are visited before they've been rightly introduced and references are made to times, places, and events with which the reader has not yet been thoroughly acquainted. But despite the memory lapses and lack of clarity, Barney's Version tells the remarkable life story of an ordinary, if not downright unlikeable, man.

Despite Barney's confusion, lack of morals, stubborn personality, and a whole host of other polarizing traits, you can't help but find yourself attached to this man as you become more engrossed in his narrative. Undercutting all the sarcasm, drunkenness, bad choices, and contempt that characterize Barney Panofsky are his frequent and fervent declaration of love toward Miriam, his third wive and true love. Though the novel is far from a romance, the love story that ultimately becomes tangled within the murder and mystery of Barney's life make him much more human and just a tiny bit likeable. It is the great romance of Barney's life that seems to be the major player in the film version and what will likely make it such a crowd-pleaser with wide appeal in spite of Barney's character.

As for the rest of the story, I don't want to give too much away so I'll keep things brief. Friends come and go, but one of the Parisian clan whom Barney most admired, Boogie, comes to play a greater role in his friend's future than imaginable. When Boogie disappears while visiting Barney's lakehouse, all fingers point to Mr. Panofsky as the murderer behind Boogie's absense, despite his pleas of innocence. You'll just have to read the novel to see how things play out, but the purported crime is intelligently threaded throughout the entire novel and becomes an important scene is the realization of Barney's true character.

Bolstered by brilliantly drawn characters and an intelligent plot, Richler crafts a novel unlike any other I've read. He expertly brings humor to reality in his delivery of this story through the eyes of an Alzheimer's patient. With footnotes and an epilogue written from the perspective of one of Barney's sons, we gain further insight into Barney's skewed view of the world and his refusal to acknowledge his declining aptitude within it.

Though I've yet to read any other work of Richler's, I can see why this novel has received such widespread acclaim, and why it has the potential to be brilliantly brought to screen. Though I won't claim that this is always an easy or even enjoyable read, coming to the last of the 417 pages in this novel feels like a worthwhile and ultimately pleasurable accomplishment. Keep your eyes out for a review of the film which I hope to post as soon as I see it and, in the meantime, feast your eyes on this trailer for the film.


  1. oops, utube pulled the video!. darn, Paul Giamatti is a great actor, he can play some pretty dark characters!.

  2. I love Paul Gianatti! Have not heard of this book OR movie. Will have to check this out!



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