1. Barney''s Version is sectioned by Barney''s
three marriages. However, the novel does not recount the story of
these marriages chronologically. In fact, Richler uses a meandering
structure for the novel, a structure which in important ways mimics
the pattern of Barney''s increasingly muddled recollections. How
did this back-and-forth structure affect your reading experience?
How were you drawn into Barney''s drama with Boogie, his passion
for Miriam, and his fate as a whole?
2. Early on, Barney sets himself in contrast to Terry, for whom
life is a "responsibility, a trust." (p.91) Yet Barney is haunted
by Terry''s life of accomplishment. What role does regret play in
Barney''s life? Does he have other regrets?
3. On the first page of the novel, Barney states that he is
about to write his memoirs as a "riposte to the scurrilous charges
Terry McIver has made... about me." Yet, by the end of the novel,
Barney''s telling has taken on many purposes, ranging from a fiery
indictment of Quebecóis nationalism to a passionate plea scribbled
in hope that Miriam might return to him. How did you respond to
these various revelations and changes?
4. In the first chapter, some of the same ground is covered both
by excerpts from Terry''s memoirs and by Barney''s own
recollections. The inconsistencies of their accounts cast doubt on
Barney''s reliability. Are we given permission to disbelieve
Barney? Are we more prepared to believe Terry? Does the novel
suggest that people are unable to recount one another''s -- or even
their own -- story with any accuracy or objectivity?
5. There is a skeptical subtext throughout the novel: people''s
lives are appropriated for the storyteller''s ends; the past is
used and manipulated. Is everything a version? Is Richler
encouraging each reader to complete their own "version" of
Barney''s life? What is your version?
6. Memory and the loss thereof is a great philosophical problem
for the aging Barney, who obsesses over instances when he has
forgotten the simplest word, growing angry when corrected.
Memory''s fragility reminds us of the transience of life itself.
Reflect on the moments in the novel in which Barney is stuck by the
impermanence of his own memory. How do these realizations affect
his sense of self?
7. Writing in the first person, Richler adopts Barney''s voice
to narrate the novel. Consider some of the key characteristics of
Barney''s voice and explore how they shape and tone and your
enjoyment of the novel. Think, for example, of the frequently
profane language and the often ungrammatical sentences that make up
Barney''s rants. If you know any of Richler''s previous novels,
compare their style to Barney''s Version.
8. Sketches of Montreal abound in Barney''s
Version. These descriptions are filled with a nostalgic
longing for a Montreal that is being lost. Name some of the
predominant features of this old Montreal. What do you think this
Montreal, and its transience, symbolize for Barney, and perhaps
9. Jewish identity finds many rich, varied expressions in
Richler''s characters, some of them filled with empathy, others
with disdain. In Barney''s Version, what ties and
estrangements exist between Jews and WASPs in Montreal?
10. Richler''s writing focuses on Montreal and Toronto, and, for
the most part, provincial Canada is inconsequential. Terry notes
with bitterness a comment in Scribner''s rejection letter: "What if
boy meets girl in Winnipeg? Who cares." But in Barney''s intense
urbanity, Montreal empties and Toronto is soulless: "Sometimes I
think what inspires this city, its very mainspring, is the haunting
fear that someone, somewhere, is happy." (p.307-308) How do you see
the conflicting portraits of urban life in Barney''s
Version and how they compare to your own experience with
11. Barney openly disdains his company, Totally Unnecessary
Productions, as he does earlier, shadier business interests. His
highest self-praise is mere self-mockery: he "never handled arms,
drugs or health foods." For all his complaints, as Miriam wisely
observes, Barney loves and needs his work. What is the role of work
in his life? Miriam''s own work is very important to her, but it is
also a source of tension in her marriage to Barney. Barney is
captivated by Miriam''s intelligence, yet he realizes his life as
it was with Miriam the homemaker. Reflect on the conflicts in life
that this reveals in them and in other characters, such as Terry
and Michael. What does Richler appear to be saying about the ways
we fashion our identities in our society?
12. Barney''s tirades are often hilarious (indeed caustic wit is
a trait apparent in many of Richler''s previous protagonists). His
misanthropic harangues include just about everybody. Find some of
the most biting passages in the novel, and some of the passages
where you laughed the most. As a satirist, Richler has been praised
for his ability to challenge sacred cows. In your mind, which
prevailing social trends does Richler ridicule most
13. In a review, John Updike writes that traditionally "novels
are about mating, and the elderly need not apply." But he notes
that as the population survives longer, geriatric survivors are now
creating a literature of the aged. How does Barney''s
Version capture aging and its attendant range of emotions?
Consider, for example, the recurring themes, so painful for
Barney''s, of the aging process of the body, and the change in
sexual potency. Think also of Barney''s reaction to Hymie''s
incapacitation after his stroke.
14. Richler''s rendering of Barney''s intellectual deterioration
is sometimes funny, sometimes poignant. Did you find it believable?
How did you respond to his struggle?
15. Barney''s son, Michael, contributes footnotes and an
afterword to Barney''s story. What purpose do they serve? What do
they reveal about the relationship between father and son, youth
and age, memory and ''fact''?