Before his brain began to shrink, Barney Panofsky clung to two cherished beliefs. Life was absurd, and nobody truly understood anybody else. Even his friends tend to agree that Barney is a 'wife-abuser, an intellectual fraud, a purveyor of pap, a drunk with a penchant for violence and probably a murderer'. But when his sworn enemy threatens to publish this calumny, Barney is driven to write his own memoirs, rewinding the spool of his life, editing, selecting and plagiarising, as his memory plays tricks on him - and on the reader. Ebullient and perverse, he has seen off 3 wives - the enigmatic Clara, whom he drove to suicide in Paris in 1952; the garrulous Second Mrs Panofsky; and finally Miriam who stayed married to him for decades before running off with a sober academic. Houdini-like, Barney slides from crisis to success, from lowlife to highlife in Montreal, Paris and London, his outrageous expolits culminating in the scandal he carries around like a humpback - the murder charge that he goes on denying to the end.