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Our Hero reviews the winner of the Weston Prize


And the winner of the inaugural Writers' Trust Hilary Weston Prize for nonfiction, which is worth $10K more than the Giller, is . . . Charles Foran! The winning book: Mordecai:The Life & Times. Our Hero reviewed the tome in the National Post in October 2010.


Yes, this is it, the definitive biography of Mordecai Richler, one of the greatest role-model writers this country has produced. It reads more like a literary work than a scholarly one, as if flowing naturally from an immersion so deep that no note-taking was required. Yet the book is so detailed, so exhaustive, so astute and authoritative, that one can’t imagine there is anything more to add.

Biographer Charles Foran is a beautiful writer: a stylist. By 1948, he tells us, when Richler was a 17-year-old student at Sir George Williams University, already he was a “heat-seeking teenage journalist.” Within three years, Richler would be in France, working on a first novel called The Rotten People — “a screed cross-eyed with self-absorption and judgmental to the point of being hateful.” A few years later, Foran tells us, Richler would be yearning to resume work on St. Urbain’s Horseman, “a book he had been writing for too long in his head and not long enough in his study.”

So the language sweeps us along. But let’s be clear: This 727-page door-stopper is written for readers who have completed Richler 101. Those who haven’t, and who might welcome a potted biography at this point, should refer to excellent biographies by Michael Posner and Reinhold Kramer.

Mordecai: The Life & Times is a tough-minded book, worthy of its subject. It’s a warts-and-all portrait of the artist as street-fighter: ruthless, committed and lethal when cornered or simply rubbed the wrong way. Of course, the Saidye Bronfman anecdote is here. At the Montreal premiere of the movie version of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, she speaks from on high: “Well, Mordecai, you’ve come a long way for a St. Urbain’s street boy.” Our hero responds: “And you’ve come a long way for a bootlegger’s wife.”

Afterwards, in Foran’s telling, Mordecai’s wife, the long-suffering Florence — a Nora-Joyce figure but with brains and critical acumen — admonishes her husband for speaking to an elderly person in such a manner. One imagines him taking another sip of whisky.

Read the rest by clicking on the title above . . .
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.

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