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Issue 29 - Bile with Style

Whisky Magazine Issue 29
March 2003


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Bile with Style

Jefferson Chase on a sharp-penned Canadian who both writes and drinks whisky – Mordecai Richler

In 1899 a man named Robert Barr wrote an essay arguing that Canadians couldn't write literature because they drank too much whisky. Ninety-nine years later, Jewish-Canadian author Mordecai Richler published a book that refutes Barr's assertion on both counts.

Barney's Version is the fictional memoir of a thrice-married septuagenarian and producer of TV schlock, who was once accused of murdering his best friend. Fortified with single malts and Montechristos, Barney Panofsky has decided to tell his side of his story and prove he wasn't such a bad guy after all.

It's a difficult undertaking – and not just because the ageing Montrealer's memory is failing. Dancing around with a tumbler of Highland malt, for instance, Barney describes his estranged third wife's partner:

There are some people out there who take Blair to be a fine fellow. A scholar of distinction. Even my sons defend him. We appreciate how you feel, they say, but he is an intelligent and caring man, devoted to Miriam. Bullshit. A drudge on tenure, Blair came to Canada from Boston in the Sixties, a draft dodger, like Dan Quayle and Bill Clinton, and consequently a hero for his students. As for me, I'm dumbfounded that anybody would prefer Toronto to Saigon.

“Bile with style” is how one reviewer described this book, and I'll second that. Or if one prefers alliteration to rhyme, a ‘Cardhu curmudgeon'.

But Barney also has his sentimental side. Once a year, he visits his father's grave, emptying a bottle of...

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