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Literature / Barney's Version

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A 1997 novel by Canadian author Mordecai Richler, which turned out to be his final work of fiction before his death in 2001. Later made into a 2010 film directed by Richard Lewis.

The novel is the life story of one Barney Panofsky, a rather grumpy Montreal Jew (just like the protagonist of every other Mordecai Richler novel) who is famous for having three wives (and three divorces) and for having been accused of murdering his close friend Boogie circa 1960, for which he was acquitted at trial but judged guilty in the court of public opinion. A lifelong producer of crappy TV shows that has made him rich, Barney sets out writing his memoirs to refute what he sees as scurilous charges made by Terry McIver, a so-called great Canadian novelist (whose work Barney finds humourless and cardboard) who he knew in Paris in the early 1950s. Thus we learn the story of Barney's life, including his relationships with Clara (wife #1), The Second Mrs. Panofsky, and Miriam (wife #3), his three children, and his friend Boogie.


The film version stars Paul Giamatti as Barney, Rachelle LeFevre as Clara, Minnie Driver as The Second Mrs. Panofsky, Rosamund Pike as Miriam, and Dustin Hoffman as Barney's father Izzy.

The book and film contain examples of:

  • Artifact Title: Barney's Version refers to the manuscript that the book consists of, written by Barney as an answer to a book written by the detective that accused him of murder. The movie focuses more on Barney's relationship with his three wives and lacks the book's autobiographical structure.
  • Canon Welding: In the same universe as several of Richler's previous novels, including The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (Duddy puts in a few cameo appearances).
  • Cigar Chomper: Barney is frequently seen puffing on one.
  • Creator Provincialism: The book is largely set in Montreal, Richler's home, and spotlights a member of Montreal's anglophone Jewish community.
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  • Daddy's Girl: Barney's daughter Kate is the most supportive of his three children. He himself professes to be confused by this, since he wasn't really that involved in her childhood compared to Miriam.
  • Death by Sex: Barney's dad in the film version.
  • Dirty Old Man: Barney grows up to be one.
  • Driven to Suicide: Clara commits suicide after Barney fails to turn up at a reconciliation dinner she planned for he didn't know about because of a note his friend failed to pass to him.
  • Exotic Backdrop Setting: Played with. Both Montreal and Bromont (where Barney's cabin is) are overwhelmingly Francophone, but you'd never know it from the movie. At the same time, Montreal has a sizeable Anglophone population that rarely gets highlighted in media set in the city. Largely played straight with the scenes in Rome (changed from Paris in the novel).
  • Footnote Fever: Barney's manuscript is littered with mistaken allusions to film, literature, and then-current events, which his son Michael notes and corrects with footnotes. Subsequently, this turns out to be intentional on Barney's part to make Michael, who he thinks to be insufficiently literate, read all those books. This was actually unnecessary, as Michael had in fact already done so.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: In-Universe. Solange, an actress in the soap opera Barney produces, is frequently featured in Bulgarian tabloid newspapers. At least she thinks she is; in reality, Barney pays someone to create them and fax them to her from Bulgaria so she feels she is still popular.
  • Hypocritical Humor
  • Jerkass: Many people, including Barney himself.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold
  • Jewish Mother: Averted. Barney notes that unlike this stereotype, his Jewish mother was generally uninterested in how he was doing at school and spent most of her time listening to the radio. This is Richler's Take That! at his own mother, whom he hated.
  • Just Train Wrong: The train to New York Miriam boards at Central Station is a Canadian VIA Rail train hastily made up to look American by replacing a Canadian flag decal on one coach with an American flag. (VIA Rail did also not yet exist in 1976, when the scene takes place). A train branded as "Amtrak" on another track is actually local commuter coaches with Amtrak branding added, making it look as if two US-bound trains were at the station at the same time - a situation that could only happen between 1986 (when Amtrak's Adirondack was moved from Windsor Station to Central) and 1995 (when the overnight Montrealer was discontinued).
  • Mrs. Robinson: Barney's teacher, Mrs. Ogilvy.
  • N-Word Privileges: As with many of Richler's other novels, his portrayal of some Jewish characters would probably have raised some objections had Richler not been Jewish himself.
  • No Name Given: Barney's second wife.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Barney tries one with Sgt. O'Hearne.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Terry McIver.
  • Soap Within a Show: Barney is the producer of a sleazy, cliched, and long-running soap opera named "O'Malley of the North".
  • A True Story in My Universe: The novel is Barney Panofsky's autobiography, edited and footnoted by his son Michael.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: The film stars Paul Giamatti as Barney, with his three wives played by Rachelle LeFevre, Minnie Driver, and Rosamund Pike; there's a noticeable attractiveness gap. In the book, Barney explicitly notes that this caused the downfall of his marriage to Miriam, as Barney was so dazzled by the idea that someone as beautiful and intelligent as her could love him that he became obsessed with warding off any possible threat, alienating her in the process.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Barney openly acknowledges taking potshots at various people he doesn't like, but does try to remember things as best he can. The footnotes and his son call to attention whether he was remembering incorrectly in places.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Barney, in more than a few episodes of his life.
  • Women Are Wiser: Miriam (wife #3) is this; however, Clara (wife #1) is a decided aversion.

Alternative Title(s): Barneys Version