By Dave Teeuwen
There are few Canadians with the fame Mordecai Richler enjoys. It is not the kind of fame movie stars and musicians endure, crave and then complain about. It’s more along the lines of being an ambassador everybody likes.
His recent collection of magazine articles and musings, Belling the Cat (and taken in large part from his contributions to GQ magazine), bear witness to just how much clout Richler’s four decades of writing have earned him. He’s not a household name, but he is very well respected and he knows it.
Richler, known best as the author of Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, primarily sees himself as a novelist. While he could easily have the same impact as a journalist, he alludes in the introduction of the book, journalism is a means to an end. In short, Richler does it for the money.
The topics in Belling the Cat are various and no essays give the subject matter the hard examination in a typical journalistic style. As Richler is more a satirist than anything else, the sections on sports and politics seem almost out of place.
In particular, "Peddler’s Diary" stands out. It sums up Richler’s journalistic work in one shot. Comprised of a series of anecdotes describing a book promotion tour of Canada and the U.S. he did during the early ’90s, "Peddler’s Diary" pokes fun at his fans, and himself. In one instance, a fan claims to have read all his work, but can’t believe that Richler’s full-time job is actually writing. In another instance, at a signing-session in a book store in Montréal, his home town, no one shows up. To Richler, these situations are to be expected. He doesn’t blow them out of proportion, he just shakes his head and laughs at everyone, including himself.
In the end, Richler is conservative, erring on the side of liberal, but he is refreshing. This is because he’s Canadian, but not Pierre Berton-Canadian, which has no place outside of our borders. Instead, he writes with an international scope and chooses to include his heritage as an important point of reference.