Top positive review
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on February 3, 2012
Joshua Then And Now is a compelling novel penned by Canada's most intriguing writer. Joshua now is in hospital with broken limbs and a battered visage. Journalists are snooping around his house looking for tips. Joshua is a local writer, a celebrity of sorts, and there is rumour he has done something illegal, has had a split with his wife, and has been involved in a homosexual affair. Scandal is in the air. His father, Reuben, a former prize fighter (and, as we later find out, an amateur Bible scholar - despite being Jewish) keeps the reporters at bay; he doesn't seem concerned.
The novel flashes back to Joshua then, from his childhood in Montreal to his days spent on Ibiza to the months and weeks prior to his apparent accident - and what a ride it is. Richler fans should delight in the bits about Ibiza, having fun wondering just how much of it is autobiographical. We know Richler lived on the Spanish isle, and we know he had trouble with a German named Mueller (Dr. Dr. Mueller in the novel; in Austria each doctorate deserves a title) and that he had to leave suddenly, like Joshua Shapiro did. We also see Richler's imagination flowing and spinning from his summer home at Lake Memphremagog, featured in Barney's Version. And we see variations on Richler's classic characters: the blue-blooded Hornbys, "rotten to the core" and cognizant of it, Jack Trimble: a man who scraped and clawed his way to the top, ignored by Westmount's and McGill's elite until they needed him to make money for them; Reuben: Joshua's ostensibly dopey but street-savvy (former boxer, Bible quoting, Labatt's drinking) father, Joshua's sex-starved Jewish mother, uncle Oscar: forced to drive a cab at age 69, Joshua's brother-in-law, a 40-year old rich brat (one of the Hornbys) who we think has been horribly framed.
This book really drew me in, but then I got lost a little in the middle. The flashback sequences are not dated, but like with Richler's subsequent Solomon Gursky Was Here it's not so much a matter of figuring out when the time-shift is but why. However, unlike the weightier and more literary Solomon Gursky Was Here, Joshua Then And Now didn't make me wonder if Richler knew where he was going and if his descriptive wanderings weren't inspired by too many glasses of scotch. In Joshua, the storyline straightens out, right on cue, and you see the method in the madness. At page 200, I was thinking, `This might be one of his weaker ones,' but by p. 300, I was marvelling.
What a shame Mordecai Richler is no longer with us. There is no one in Canada writing books like his nowadays, and there is one less erudite social critic to lampoon the politically correct CBC, insincere politicians, the politics of special pleading, or other Canadian silliness. Richler possessed a humour, wit, intellect, and irony that just isn't there now - and he was a better writer than just about anyone who wins the Giller Prize these days. They just don't make `em like that anymore.
4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.
Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World