Loving and Hating Barney

I have a love/hate feeling toward Barney. I love the way that he talks about Miram, his third wife. He is so cute when he is trying to convince her to go out with him. But when he is with the second Mrs. Panofsky he is such a mean, distant husband. To be fair his description of the second Mrs. Panofsky is not a very nice one, but then again it is his description of her.

I think this relation goes very well with my love/hate relationship with Canadian history. Throughout most of my high school education I learned about the good side of Canadian history. Canada as a peacekeeper, the polite, nice country. But then I learn about Japanese Interment camps, Residential schools and other historical events pushed into the background.

What I like about Barney, is unlike Canada, he does not hide his bad history, but shows the reader every side of him. He is not trying to hide his faults but puts it out for the world to see.

Unintentional Allusion: The Albino Canada

So allusions can be intentional and unintentional right?

While reading Barney’s Version there was one point in the book that I thought was alluding to the Canadian literature “canon”, but I knew was not really. This part was when Barney marries his first wife Clara because she is pregnant. Seven months into her pregnancy she has a stillborn child, who turn out to be not to be Barney’s child because the baby is half African American.

I thought alluded to the fact that Canadians so desperately wanted to have an identity, they accepted the white-dominated literature to be a representation for Canada, forgetting about any of the culture not represented under this supposed canon.

Just as Barney believes the child is his, Canada (or at least Canadians represented in the canon) believes that the literature is Canadian.

Of course some of the literature did represent part of Canada, but not all of it. As pointed out in class it was not until 1960’s that Aboriginal Peoples in Canada began to find their voice through literature.

Richler, of course would not have been a writer who was omitted from this canon which is why this is an unintentional allusion. It is often stated that he is part of the Canadian canon. He was a white Canadian. Sure he was Jewish, but as pointed out multiple times in the novel, being Jewish was not always a bad thing.  In the novel Barney shows this by using his the threat of another Holocaust to convince people to fund the United Jewish Appeal.

When the doctor asks Barney is the child’s baby and Barney says that he is the doctor answers by saying, “you must be an albino” (117). I think that this completely summarizes what the Canon did for Canada. It made all of Canada appear to be from European decent, forgetting about the Aboriginal Peoples and those of hyphenated identities who immigrated to Canada. The multiculturalness that Canada is so proud of today did not exist in the literature Canon.

Barney’s Version – The Life of a Trice Married Canadian

Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler is an autobiography written by Barney Panofsky, a Jewish Canadian living in Montreal. He separates his story into three sections, one for each of his ex-wives. His first section on his ex-wife Clara spans from 1950-1952, from the day they meet to her suicide. He then goes moves onto his second wife, who is only known as the second Mrs. Panofsky. He is only married to his second wife for two years of his life from 1958-1960 as she is found to be cheating on him with his best friend. Barney is later accused of murdering this best friend, Boogie. His third and final wife is married to him for almost 30 years. Miriam still holds his heart despite their divorce.

When first looking at the three parts of the novel I thought that the story would be told chronologically (the dates he is married to each wife is stated at the beginning of each part, so one might assume that those would be the dates that the), but Barney tells his story in a very non-linear way weaving in and out of his stories, pausing half way through one story to tell another that he finds more interesting. When I first started reading it, I found it to be confusing and slightly annoying, but as I became accustomed to his storytelling technique I began to enjoy it. His odd sense of story telling reminded me of my first impression of GGRW, where I was constantly confused in the beginning, but as I got to the end, the change in perspectives, just was another part of the story, not a burden when reading.

As Barney goes through the novel his memory of certain events begins to diminish as he is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He is an unreliable narrator. But I feel that this unreliability makes him more human and realistic. I mean who really remembers every second of their life well enough to present it reliably enough in an autobiography without making some mistakes?

I’m excited to start looking for Canadian-ness allusions. There are a lot of obvious allusions to Canadian-ness (i.e. Barney is stereotypically obsessed with hockey even going so far as listening to the game on his wedding night), but I look forward to looking for those not-so-obvious allusions.