“And what about the work?”: How to Read Mordecai Richler Without Storming the Barricades

For most Quebeckers, Mordecai Richler was most memorable in the final decade of his life for his controversial statements, or for those he was claimed to have made. A number of critiques of varying quality, but for the most part predictable, followed in the wake of Oh Canada, Oh Quebec! Yet one must allow that in the tense pre-referendum atmosphere of the time, some rushed ahead of themselves in their efforts to respond to his barbs. Although Richler had garnered critical praise for his undeniable literary talent, for Quebec’s francophone intelligentsia his mastery of the novel was suddenly forgotten.

And what about the work? Now that the dust has finally settled on the historical polemic, it is perhaps time to return soberly to the works, fictional and non-fictional, of Mordecai Richler. This is a question raised by the workshop held at Carleton University on 13 April 2007, now to be further explored in a special bilingual issue of Canadian Literature. We invite reflections on the diverse interpretations inspired by Richler’s work from genres such as the novel, pamphlet, journalism, and screenplays that go beyond the humour and cynicism so often studied (although there is clearly seriousness even in the comical). What is the writer’s view of culture, art, and literature? What is to be made of this oeuvre and how it will be inscribed in Canadian literary histories? Further interdisciplinary studies may investigate the limits and possibilities of popular history, and reflections on intercultural encounters.