Where the American Jewish novelists were American first of all – "I am an American, Chicago born" is how Augie March greets us – and could lay claim to a whole literature, to Melville and Whitman as much as to their parents' jokes, Richler, like the Australian and Caribbean writers, had first to show that what he was writing about existed at all. He had to show that a language and lore existed before he could attach it to anyone else's tradition.
The satiric, deprecatory tone that he shared with Amis and Braine was therefore allied in his writing to a larger ambition – he had to write about a city (and country) that didn't quite know it was one, about the manners of a tribe who hadn't been told they had them. The urge to inventory a reality that everyone else thought was merely a dependency, one that didn't really count, is present everywhere in his novels, and it creates an unwilled expansiveness, an appetite for setting down experience, that feels less claustrophobic than the worlds of his English contemporaries. It was the same tone, but they were describing a world shrinking inwards. He was describing one pushing out.
So he had to give form to a world before he could make fun of it, and the two ambitions were so closely allied – the affectionate urge to inventory a city and tribe already vanishing as he wrote of them; the satiric urge to mock their narrowness and pretensions – that they became indistinguishable.