Friday, January 07, 2011

MORDECAI: THE LIFE & TIMES by Charles Foran (2010) Knopf Canada

MORDECAI: THE LIFE & TIMES is a brick of a book at 717 pages, but this exhaustive and engaging biography of the Canadian literary icon is worth every minute that you will spend in its heady company.

As Booker-Prize-winning novelist Yann Martel explains in his cover blurb, "Charles Foran vividly renders the life of Mordecai Richler, in all his complexity and with all his contradictions." Foran had unlimited access to Richler's archives both public and private thanks to the generosity of his widow Florence and this accessibility combined with Foran's own talent as a storyteller (he's published nine books of fiction/nonfiction) has produced the definitive biography of an indefinable character.

Foran is careful to balance Richler's public irascibility with the private tenderness of a father to five remarkably creative children (Daniel, Noah, Emma, Martha & Jacob) and the old-fashioned devoted husband to the woman he most respected and loved, Florence Mann. In understanding Richler's family history, and specifically those in-your-face coming-of-age years in Montreal, Foran has provided the falsework for all of the novels. And, in so doing has made me want to revisit THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ, SOLOMON GURSKY WAS HERE & BARNEY'S VERSION for starters.

Travel to London and Paris with twenty-something Mordecai and mingle with legendary editor Diana Athill, expat fiction writer Mavis Gallant, fellow novelist Brian Moore and rising film star Sean Connery. Find out how Richler believed that Pierre Trudeau "could never be elected Prime Minister," how he championed THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP by a young novelist named John Irving, and why he regarded Brian Mulroney as one of the finest liars of all time "who lied even when it wasn't necessary just to keep in shape, his voice, a dead give-away, sinking into his Guccis whenever he was about to deliver one of his whoppers."

I really loved this book and hope that it will be named the recipient of this year's BC National Award for Canadian Nonfiction later this month as well as a contender for the Charles Taylor Prize for literary nonfiction not to mention make its way into the hands of grateful readers keen to read a real story well told.

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