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Barney’s Version

Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: Barney’s Version

Author: Mordecai Richler

Year of Publication: 1997

Genre Keywords: CanLit, comedy, family, Jewish humour, Judaism, marriage, murder, romance, satire, unreliable narrator.

Summary: It’s been said that whoever we are and however we live our lives, we’re always the villain in somebody else’s retelling of the story. Barney Panofsky, thrice married, has been accused of all kinds of terrible things in his time, including the murder of his best friend, Boogie. Now, estranged from the only woman he’s ever truly loved and drawing towards the close of his life, Barney decides to document – with no little sense of humour and a voice that jumps right off the page – his version of events. Wryly he recounts each of his three marriages, to creative and unstable feminist martyr, then a high-class and high-maintenance Jewish American Princess, and finally to his beloved Miriam. But the question of whether his narration is reliable hangs over the entire text. When he swears he never shot Boogie, can we trust him to tell us the truth?

Who’ll Love It: A narrator as unstable and unreliable as Barney Panofsky isn’t someone you’ll enjoy if you want your stories to progress in a strictly linear fashion and nail down the facts on all sides. That’s a pity, though, because he’s a blast to read. Fans of irony and subtle satire will enjoy Richler’s observations about life in the Quebecois Jewish community, referendum-era Montreal, and the family state in general. And if you’re interested in trying to figure out a mystery, the question of what really happened to Boogie remains up for grabs throughout most of the story.

Real-World Parallels: This is what it must be like to live in New York. Throughout the novel, references to Canadian news stories – from Trudeaumania to the 1995 referendum – brought the thrill of recognition to my reading. And that’s to say nothing of the little, everyday references to things that are part of Canadian life, like Hockey Night in Canada or the CBC (Radio-Canada to the Quebecois). Once I even recognized a street name from time spent living in Quebec! It’s icing on the cake for Canadian readers picking up Canadian books, and one of my personal favourite perks of CanLit: it gets where I’m coming from.

By A Lady


By A Lady

Image via Powells.


Title: By A Lady: Being the Adventures of an Enlightened American in Jane Austen’s England

Author: Amanda Elyot

Year of Publication: 2006

Genre Keywords: drama, friendship, Georgian England, historical, Jane Austen, marriage, nineteenth century, romance, social mores, time travel.

Summary: Twenty-first-century aspiring actress C.J. Welles has never felt like she belonged in this time and place. But just as she’s on the verge of winning the on-Broadway role of her literary heroine Jane Austen, she finds herself transported through time and space to Bath, England, circa 1801. Despite her better-than-average knowledge of period social mores, she finds herself in dire straits almost immediately, until a chance meeting lands her in the role of a lifetime: posing as Lady Dalrymple’s unfortunate niece, Cassandra. Suddenly doors are opening for her, and she finds herself connecting with all the most important people in Bath, including the intriguing Earl of Darlington, Owen Percival, and his sharp-witted cousin – Jane Austen herself! Could this nineteenth-century world be where C.J. really belongs? And if that’s true, can she keep her liberated, modern self from humiliation when the rules of polite society tolerate no deviation from a moral code as strict as it is unfamiliar?

Who’ll Love It: Fans of Jane Austen and similar period literature will eat this up. The writing style is just the right combination of modern and old-fashioned to set the tone without becoming hard to follow, and the concept is creative and well-executed. But you don’t have to know Jane Austen to enjoy this as a dramatic and somewhat sultry romance novel. A few scenes are pretty racy, though – some readers may wind up reaching for the smelling salts before the end.


Regency gown with kidskin shoes.

Image via Dragonfly Formals.


Fashion Backward: There’s a veritable cottage industry online for Jane Austen enthusiasts, and if you’re fascinated by any aspect of the story, information is just a Google search away. Personally, I recommend an image search for “Jane Austen dresses” or “Regency gowns” to get a firsthand look at the fashions, which play a fascinating role in the book. The author’s commentary on very revealing gowns designed to denote virginity (because they’re white!) really piqued my interest. And our time-traveling heroine eventually finds herself in a great deal of trouble when her enemies notice that she wears the same outfit all day long, never bothering to change from a morning gown to a tea dress!

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