In 1983, not long after our parents bought a cottage overlooking Lake Memphremagog in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, the family enjoyed a massive upgrade in the shape of one regulation-size, oak snooker table – in its own purpose-built room whose floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors situated our games on the edge of a hill in the woods, the actual woods, with the water lapping and gurgling and glittering brightly below.
You can see a corner of it on the jacket of On Snooker, the last book my Dad, Mordecai Richler, published while he was alive, as he surveys the field of green baize before him, cue held upright like a rifle with its butt to the floor. Outdoors the sky is blue while over his shoulder, somewhat ominously, is the silhouette of a bird of prey. We stuck it there to prevent sparrows and marsh wrens from smashing into the glass, but it reminds me of the raven in Solomon Gursky Was Here, “the likes of which hadn’t been seen over Lake Memphremagog since the record cold spell of 1851. A raven with flapping wings. A raven with an unquenchable itch to meddle and provoke things, to play tricks on the world and its creatures.”
If Dad himself looks a little worse for wear – well, yes, in fact. Cancer would do him in the following year, in 2001. But he loved that room, as we all did. We spent many a boozy, farty evening in it. Among other bacchanals, it saw the annual Boxing Day Richler Cup – an event, Dad wrote in On Snooker, “not yet recognized by the snobs who run the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association.”
Next week, another Richler Cup – a new one, semi-formal, less boisterous and organized by Snooker Canada – begins in Montreal. An annual event with prize money totalling $20,000, it is open to all-comers internationally. Already, players are arriving from India, Pakistan, the United States...
This is quite the leap from our little room, a place where Dad found solace and inspiration, and which for all my sibs and myself holds little but the fondest, most hilarious memories, and – in a manner that sports nuts who see existential dimensions in baseball will readily understand – the profoundest too.
As my sister Emma says, “You could tell the time of day by the sounds he made about the house.” All his life he worked at home, in later years almost exclusively at the cottage, and at 10:30, taking his morning tea break, against a backdrop of swap sparrows, willow catchers and motorboats out on the lake, you’d hear him knock the balls around as he waited for the kettle to boil.
He’d never play an actual game before the day was done, so you knew not to interrupt him there. That room was equally for him a place to think and process “whenever,” as he wrote in On Snooker, “I’m enduring a bummer of a morning at my typewriter,” which is why in those years Mum almost never set foot in the place. She knew it was his space.
‘He loved being with his boys’
It was Mum, though, who designed the snooker room and had it constructed for Dad’s 52nd birthday.
“I pretended it was going to be a master bedroom, with all the windows and the glorious view, to keep it a surprise,” she remembers. “He took very little interest in its construction until he discovered what it really was, but in the end it gave him more pleasure than any other gift I’d given him.”
There were pews at either end, salvaged from a local church, which would seat you with your face exactly at arse height of the players as they bent over to shoot. There was a stone chisel on the wall that once belonged to Dad’s dad, Moses Isaac Richler, the only legacy from a failed brickmaking venture in Montreal. There was a framed movie still of Ray Milland reaching for one more whisky in Lost Weekend; a 1960s-style Coca-Cola machine that reeked of the hash we used to stash in it as teenagers; a disgusting old brass spittoon; a painting of Daniel Mendoza, the first Jewish heavyweight boxing champion.