Fans who were expecting stinging shots at Bernard Landry and Lucien Bouchard were not disappointed, but Mordecai Richler spread the verbal buckshot far and wide last Thursday night when he entertained an overflow audience in the Henry F. Hall Building's Alumni Auditorium.
"Injustice collectors" abound, he declared. No matter who we are, "we are nourished by old insults," whether it's anglophone-rights zealots (in bad taste) or the provinces (always whining).
Bespectacled and as rumpled as ever, Richler was flanked by two security guards scanning the crowd for lurking entartistes. He was able to extract yet more humour from even the hoariest battles of the language wars.
For example, he pointed out that Donald Gordon, the head of the CNR who said in 1962 that francophones weren't well enough educated to be executives, turned out not to have a university degree himself. He also speculated that 1982 cabinet minister Claude Charron may have shoplifted that sports coat from Eaton's because he couldn't find a sales clerk.
Ever politically incorrect, Richler linked two opinion polls. One shows that about 20 per cent of the Quebec electorate are undecided about separation, and therefore determine the outcome every election, while the other indicates that about 20 per cent are functionally illiterate.
Richler's novels range from The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which was made into a movie and is on virtually every high-school curriculum, to Barney's Version, recent winner of the Giller Prize.
When asked after his talk to name his favourite novel, however, Richler admitted that he has a special place in his affections for Solomon Gursky Was Here. This novel, called by some critics an ambitious failure, draws heavily on the history of Arctic exploration, a departure for the bard of St. Urbain St.
The novelist, who built his fame on earthy tales of Montreal's Jewish community in the 1940s, has found that his experience mirrors that of many of his former classmates at Baron Byng High School. He and his wife recently moved to Toronto to be closer to most of their five grown children.
Richler, who was an indifferent high school student, attended Sir George Williams University briefly in 1950, but dropped out to go to England, where he launched a successful writing career while still in his 20s. He returned about two decades later to find himself one of the few Canadian writers with a truly international profile.
- Barbara Black