Sunday, October 02, 2011

Canadian Book Challenge 5: Joshua Then and Now - Mordecai Richler

I like the idea of this book better than the actual book.  It's a comic novel done up like a mystery, but there are parts of it that feel so dated.  There is also a long middle section that feels interminable.

 Joshua Then and Now starts out promisingly:  Joshua Shapiro, a middle-aged Canadian TV journalist is recuperating from a serious accident, his wife has disappeared and he's just been outed because some tender and salacious love letters that he wrote to a young novelist 20 years before recently came to light and has been published.  He's being guarded from the nosy press by his father-in-law, a Montreal senator and his father, an ex-boxer turned loan shark heavy. But is Joshua inside upset and quivering?  No way!  He's  reading the old correspondence and laughing like crazy at the inventiveness of his side of it.  Also, what about those black silk panties the police detective sees him wearing a few days before the accident?

My favorite scenes in the book are with young Joshua and his unconventional family in 1930s and 40s Montreal.  His father is always having to go into hiding because of the nature of his work.  His mother has plans to embark on a career as a stripper, and she makes her debut at the party after Joshua's bar mitzvah.  In another amusing episode, Joshua's father attempts to simultaneously give him religious instruction and information about the facts of life during the Days of Awe.

 I also liked the parts about English financier Jack Trimble, who seems to have out-Gatsbyed Gatsby.  Joshua Shapiro regards him with loathing and Trimble seems to be the villain of the piece if you style it as a mystery but I couldn't help finding him interesting and having a bit of a soft spot for him.  Joshua and Trimble were alike because of their outsider status and dogged quests to settle old scores, so maybe Joshua was feeling a bit of self-revulsion.

I usually love this kind of novel because it makes me feel smart because I have to keep track of the jumpy timeline and the characters, but this book made me cranky.  I think it's because too large of a section of the novel is set during Joshua's adult years in the 1970s where he's spending time with his wife's crowd, a bunch of decadent WASP-y types.  I was having flashbacks to my Harold Robbins-reading days.  By the time Joshua revisits Spain (the 1950s experience and its 1970s followup are crammed together confusingly), I was starting not to care and merely soldiered on to the end.  I would have dropped this book into the DNF file without a moment's thought if I hadn't wanted to rack up some Canadian points for the challenge.

I don't recommend this book, but I would really like to see the 1985 film version with James Woods as Joshua and Alan Arkin as his father.  Richler adapted his own novel for the screen.  I wonder if he kept the same storytelling device.  Aside from the excellent casting, the movie can't help but be better than the book if only because Richler had to trim a lot of his original bloated excess.

Even though I didn't care for Joshua Then and Now, you can't kill my love, Mordecai Richler!   I have plans to both read and watch Barney's Version.


John Mutford said...

I've been there! Not with this particular book, as I've still not read it, but I've been there.

I loved, loved, loved Barney's Version, however.

Steven Page said...

Honest. Good.

Carrie K said...

I liked Harold Robbins. Should I not re-read him? Because it's been awhile. Possibly since he was on the best seller pages.

Joshua Then and Now does sound a wee bit fun though. If I skim the middle.