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Fifth Business (The Deptford Trilogy #1)

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Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man's land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man's land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those around him. His apparently innocent involvement in such innocuous events as the throwing of a snowball or the teaching of card tricks to a small boy in the end prove neither innocent nor innocuous. Fifth Business stands alone as a remarkable story told by a rational man who discovers that the marvelous is only another aspect of the real.


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Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man's land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man's land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those around him. His apparently innocent involvement in such innocuous events as the throwing of a snowball or the teaching of card tricks to a small boy in the end prove neither innocent nor innocuous. Fifth Business stands alone as a remarkable story told by a rational man who discovers that the marvelous is only another aspect of the real.

30 review for Fifth Business (The Deptford Trilogy #1)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Candi

    4.5 stars "Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business." Dunstan Ramsay was born in the small town of Deptford, Ontario. In 1908, at the age of ten, he is unknowingly cast in "the vital though never glori 4.5 stars "Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business." Dunstan Ramsay was born in the small town of Deptford, Ontario. In 1908, at the age of ten, he is unknowingly cast in "the vital though never glorious role of Fifth Business" due to an untimely event that will ultimately weigh on his conscience for the rest of his life. This role of course is not a literal one – Dunstan is not an actor in a play or opera, yet he is a person who seems to have an influence on the lives of another small cast of characters in his real life drama. His feelings of guilt over this tragic occurrence will ultimately affect many of the decisions he later makes in his life in order to atone for what he considers to be his sin. His story covers nearly forty years and is told in the form of a first-person sort of memoir. We as readers have to question whether his guilt is such that he should take on so much responsibility for his actions over the course of his life. On the surface, this book seems to be about growing up in a small-minded town, the effect of the horrors of World War I on a man’s body and psyche, the marvel of magic, and an obsession with the saints. It is about those things; but Canadian author Robertson Davies brilliantly weaves all of these elements together into something that is so much more than what we initially perceive. The narrative and the point of view used allow us to glimpse just a bit of what is really happening here a little at a time. While I enjoyed Dunstan’s story throughout, I did not realize just how cleverly this was written until I neared the end. The prose is crisp and clear and oftentimes with a bit of sarcastic wit. "Some thought that my known habit of reading a great deal had unseated my reason, and perhaps that dreadful disease ‘brain fever,’ supposed to attack students, was not far off. One or two friends suggested to my father that immediate removal from school, and a year or two of hard work on a farm, might cure me." The characters are well-drawn and memorable, all playing their ‘assigned roles’ quite perfectly in retrospect. I am finding it difficult to provide an overview of this novel, but it is most definitely one for those that crave something literary, creative, and meaningful. Choose it at a time when you want to exercise your brain – not that it is difficult to read by any means, but in order to get the most out of it you will want to clearly focus on all that it has to offer. It certainly made me question to what extent our actions – or omissions – affect the lives of others and at what point can we say that we have paid our debt so to speak. Or is the debt ever truly repaid? This is my first Robertson Davies book; and I will be adding the next in the trilogy and seeing what else I have missed by yet another gifted author. "This is one of the cruelties of the theatre of life; we all think of ourselves as stars and rarely recognize it when we are indeed mere supporting characters or even supernumeraries."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    4.5 stars Robertson Davies is one of my literary heroes. At a time in my youth when I had been engulfed with ‘Canadian Literature’ that was, in my humble opinion at the time at least, depressing, uninteresting, and decidedly parochial, here was a man who wrote stories with verve, humour, erudition and a view to the wider world. _Fifth Business_ is the first book of Davies’ Deptford trilogy, a series of books that centre around people from the fictional small town of Deptford, Ontario. Sounds paro 4.5 stars Robertson Davies is one of my literary heroes. At a time in my youth when I had been engulfed with ‘Canadian Literature’ that was, in my humble opinion at the time at least, depressing, uninteresting, and decidedly parochial, here was a man who wrote stories with verve, humour, erudition and a view to the wider world. _Fifth Business_ is the first book of Davies’ Deptford trilogy, a series of books that centre around people from the fictional small town of Deptford, Ontario. Sounds parochial already, doesn’t it? But wait, there’s more. The main character, and narrator, of this tale is Dunstan Ramsay, a man who seems to have been destined to exist on the periphery of the life he is now looking back on. Sharp-tongued and intelligent, Ramsay has let himself fall into the role of school-teacher at an all-boy’s private school, unencumbered not only by a wife and children, but also by any truly close friends. The closest he has is Percy Boyd “Boy” Staunton, the golden boy of Deptford and frenemy of his youth. Boy is everything Ramsay is not: outgoing, active, popular and rich. Boy soon makes his mark in the wider world, parlaying the small fortune of his grasping father into the foundations of a business empire that certainly does nothing to lessen Boy’s innate pride and narcissism. Aside from their origins in a small Ontario town as part of the same generation, the two boys share something else, a link to the tragedy that occurred in the life of Mrs. Mary Dempster. On a fateful winter day, when Boy’s pride is goaded on by the shrewd antagonism of Ramsay, the then-pregnant Mrs. Dempster becomes the victim of a snowball hurled by Boy and meant for Ramsay which had a stone at its heart. This blow not only precipitates the early delivery of her son Paul, but also leads to a loss of cognitive functions that makes her, in the words of the people of Deptford, “simple”. Forever keeping the facts secret, Ramsay is wracked by guilt over this event for the rest of his life (despite the fact that his was certainly more a sin of omission when compared to Boy’s culpability). It in fact becomes the shaping catalyst for his life and in large part determines the man he is to become. Ramsay takes upon himself the care of Mrs. Dempster (officially at the urging of his mother, who helped to deliver the woman’s son, but ultimately at the prodding of his own conscience) and she becomes for him a figure of signal importance. For Ramsay is convinced that there is something special about Mary Dempster, in fact he is certain that she is a saint. This is not only the result of his guilt, but due to the fact that Ramsay is certain that he has personally witnessed three miracles performed by her (one the resurrection of his apparently dead older brother). Ramsay becomes obsessed with saints and saintliness and his life’s work, his true passion, the study of these enigmatic figures in human history. He is not a particularly religious man, but he is not incredulous of the validity of religious experience either. This is where Davies is able to bring in one of his own favourite obsessions: Jungian archetypes and the mythical significance of history. The lens through which Ramsay sees the world is coloured by this interpretation and it is a fascinating one that informs all of Davies’ other books. Dunstan Ramsay is an excellent narrator and his voice is pitch-perfect. He seems to contain the perfect balance of incisive observation with a somewhat deprecating self-awareness…though of course we probably shouldn’t take everything he says as gospel. Through Ramsay’s eyes we view the petty concerns and grotesqueries of small town life, things that, while petty (or perhaps *because* they are petty), are more than powerful enough to destroy a human life; we share in some of the horrors of the First World War as well as the ennobling elements of life that can overcome such things; and we witness the ways in which, sometimes unbeknownst to us, our lives are intertwined with those of everyone we meet, no matter how disconnected and solitary we think we are. _Fifth Business_ isn’t my favourite book by Davies, but it’s a very good one and is an excellent introduction to the kind of writing you’ll experience if you choose to try him out. Not only was Davies a learned man, able to convey his learning in his books without sounding like a school-teacher or a man with a mission to convert (even though he was, perhaps, both things), but he was also a very accomplished writer: I know flattery when I hear it; but I do not often hear it. Furthermore, there is good flattery and bad; this was from the best cask. And what sort of woman was this who knew so odd a word as “hagiographer” in a language not her own? Nobody who was not a Bollandist had ever called me that before, yet it was a title I would not have exchanged to be called Lord of the Isles. Delightful prose! I must know more of this. Delightful prose indeed. Davies’ novels seem to flow effortlessly, partly due to the charming and fluid voice he attains in them, and partly, I think, through his clever weaving of myth and symbol throughout what is, on the surface, a rather mundane plot. Ramsay’s life, especially in his eventually acknowledged role of “Fifth Business”, is not one that is full of monumental events or unexpected novelty, but it is a human life and one which Davies puts into the greater context not only of the lives that all of us lead, but of the mythic symbols and higher meanings that we look to in order to find greater significance in what we do and who we are. Also posted at Shelf Inflicted

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kalliope

    I just could not help but feel sorry for poor candid little kalliope, the one who likes to invoke her eponymous muse, as if that were to help her in her reading and review-writing. Lately little spirally kalliope has been reading so many books that deal with saints and other holy figures that she was beginning to question her own mythological essence. There was Fra Angelico: La Virgen de la Humildad, which she enjoyed, and led by the mysteries of this book she followed the saving path sowed by M I just could not help but feel sorry for poor candid little kalliope, the one who likes to invoke her eponymous muse, as if that were to help her in her reading and review-writing. Lately little spirally kalliope has been reading so many books that deal with saints and other holy figures that she was beginning to question her own mythological essence. There was Fra Angelico: La Virgen de la Humildad, which she enjoyed, and led by the mysteries of this book she followed the saving path sowed by Millard Meiss and continued with Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death: The Arts, Religion and Society in the Mid-Fourteenth Century. But that was not enough. She was obviously ensnared by the spiritual images of the spiritual beings, because she continued with the holiest of holies, and unfolded the panels of a Sienese treasure with Duccio, the Maesta. But then, realizing that she was probably running into a self-delusion, and that following all those saints may have been the work of the devil and that what seemed a process of sanctification was probably a disguised temptation of the most abject evil, she decided to pick up a very different kind of book: a twentieth century novel written by a well-established Canadian. Just for a break. Fifth business. No clue what that title promised. And it started well. Silly spirally kalliope felt as she had unraveled her spiral and distanced herself several universes from holy-land. But no, she was in for a shock, for Fifth business, is not just about the fifth character in an opera who is not there really to sing but to move the plot along. This novel is also about saints. Silly kalliope felt lost and could see that her Muse was abandoning her and that she was on her way to become Saint Kalliope of the holy Spiral and that she would be joining Saint Ursula and her thousand saints… Irretrievably. But then there came a gasp of fresh air, and the mythological world came back. Gyges and King Candaules, by now familiar characters who live in various novels. She recently encountered this odd couple (trio) in Powell’s eleventh volume of his Dance, in Temporary Kings. But before the Candaules episode was also included in Ondatjee’s The English Patient, which mentions that the story originates in Herodotus. And Théophile Gautier also had his go at it Le Roi Candaule. So may be the Candaules saga will help silly candid kalliope find her literary path again. For reading is all about myths, whether these are saintly or pagan.

  4. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Canada behind the gloss For me Robertson Davies is Canada: its gentleness and its snobbery; its reserve and its smugness; its inherent democratic attitudes and its bourgeois provincialism; its multicultural diversity and subtle ethnic prejudices. It is the US without the fanaticism and England without inherited nobility. It is also much more than either. Davies ability to describe Canada's uniqueness is unparalleled and itself unique. Fifth Business is a sort of representative history of the coun Canada behind the gloss For me Robertson Davies is Canada: its gentleness and its snobbery; its reserve and its smugness; its inherent democratic attitudes and its bourgeois provincialism; its multicultural diversity and subtle ethnic prejudices. It is the US without the fanaticism and England without inherited nobility. It is also much more than either. Davies ability to describe Canada's uniqueness is unparalleled and itself unique. Fifth Business is a sort of representative history of the country from 1910 to 1950 from the point of view of the Ontario elite, roughly the equivalent class of the New York nouveau rich at the turn of the 20th century. Davies ability to sense the peculiar mores and foibles of this now declining culture is remarkable. Few writing in the English language can beat Davies prose. He is as smooth as John Banville and as captivating as Louis Auchincloss.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Manju

    Ramsay was born in 1898 in Deptford, Ontario. When he was 10, while running away from his friend, a snow ball meant for him hit Mrs. Dampster instead of him. Mrs. Dampster, who was pregnant at that time, immediately went into labour and lets say she was never same again. She became what people of Deptford called "simple". This very event weighed heavily on Ramsay's conscience for the rest of his life. Whatever he did, he always returned to this very moment. In fact many of his decision were sole Ramsay was born in 1898 in Deptford, Ontario. When he was 10, while running away from his friend, a snow ball meant for him hit Mrs. Dampster instead of him. Mrs. Dampster, who was pregnant at that time, immediately went into labour and lets say she was never same again. She became what people of Deptford called "simple". This very event weighed heavily on Ramsay's conscience for the rest of his life. Whatever he did, he always returned to this very moment. In fact many of his decision were solely taken/rejected because of this incident. This is a hard book to describe. One can say it's Ramsay's story but once you start reading it you will find that it is so much more. For example take his relationship with Mrs. Dampster and how highly he think of her. Whereas his mother think that him spending time with that "simple" lady is not good for her son. But Ramsay knows why she has became "simple" and he blames himself for it. So spending time with her and taking care of her is atonement for his sins. There was a lot of struggle for a loving mother (she was also a kind woman) to understand her son and Mrs. Dampster. Then later on it's his relationship with his friend Staunton that take precedence. One of the thing that stand about Ramsay's is that he is not critical. He has laid bare himself in the letter. Confessing his lies, insecurities, remorse but he is never critical. He never judged. He just tells the reader how certain people are and left it for reader to put them in black, white, and gray. It is easy to discard it as Ramsay's memoir (the whole story is told in a letter), but the author has beautifully intertwined Ramsay's life with contempt, religion, guilt, and spirituality that it gives reader a lot to ponder upon. The book has beautiful prose. Simple yet captivating and perhaps it is what played a big part in what this book is. Highly recommended if you like to read between the lines.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "As I have grown older my bias--the oddly recurrent themes of history, which are also the themes of myth--has asserted itself, and why not?" - Robertson Davies, Fifth Business Robertson Davies is one of those authors who has constantly been a peripheral artist. I've seen his books, corner of my eye, at bookstores (used and new) but never focused. Never stayed. Never picked one up. Recently I asked a couple friends to recommend some bigger books (or series) that they really liked. A friend of mine, "As I have grown older my bias--the oddly recurrent themes of history, which are also the themes of myth--has asserted itself, and why not?" - Robertson Davies, Fifth Business Robertson Davies is one of those authors who has constantly been a peripheral artist. I've seen his books, corner of my eye, at bookstores (used and new) but never focused. Never stayed. Never picked one up. Recently I asked a couple friends to recommend some bigger books (or series) that they really liked. A friend of mine, who is an author and shares many similar tastes (Patrick O'Brian and John le Carré, etc) recommend the Deptford Trilogy by Davies. So, I picked it up. Gobsmacked. Ach mein Gott! This book is good. It reminded me of an intellectualized version of John Irving (later I discovered Irving LOVED/LOVES Davies) mixed with a bit of John Fowles. He is a master of time, place, and character AND he is also one of those authors whose prose is full of little. quotable bon mots or philosophical epigrams. And while I readily admit that these are a bit like sugar sprinkles for me -- they work and their is a reason I adore them. Anyway, the book carried a great deal of emotional resonance with me. Enough so that I'm jamming a copy I bought for my wife to read (she is a beast on books, so I bought her a mass-market version for her pleasure and sacrifice...she doesn't get the hardcover one I have). I am excited to spend more time with these characters in books two (The Manticore) and book three (World of Wonders). I'll return and report as I finish.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ali Green

    I can not stand this book and don't understand why people seem to rave about it. I like the concept- that a character's life is not special, in itself, but how that character influences other character's lives gives the first character meaning, a bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet- but the book itself is just... Words on paper. I did not care at all about any of the characters. I found the main character to be boring, flat, uninteresting, and whinny. As the book is told in first pers I can not stand this book and don't understand why people seem to rave about it. I like the concept- that a character's life is not special, in itself, but how that character influences other character's lives gives the first character meaning, a bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet- but the book itself is just... Words on paper. I did not care at all about any of the characters. I found the main character to be boring, flat, uninteresting, and whinny. As the book is told in first person, I found "being in his head" to be as enjoyable as having teeth pulled. He seriously spends his whole life obsessing about this one incident that happens at the beginning of the book, and indeed the book ends with him talking about that incident. Honestly, let it go! I read the whole thing back in school, because I had to and I recently picked it up again, now that I'm older, to see if I missed the point the first time around. It remains as pointless and pathetic as it did when I first read it. One read is enough. My personal opinion and harsh criticism aside and looking at the literature itself, I still don't see why people praise this book so highly. It's mediocre at best and not worth more than an average rating. There's nothing stellar or exceptional going on here.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    Because I loved, loved this book, I feel I must steal some precious seconds to write about it, before my memory of fades too much. Not that it could ever escape completely, because (as I said) I loved this book. I didn't know much about Davies, only that he was a famous Canadian author, and I bought this book used thinking that I should be exploring my Canadian heritage.* And I was totally wowed by the book. It is the story of Dunston Ramsey, or rather, a story told by Dunston Ramsey. Dunston co Because I loved, loved this book, I feel I must steal some precious seconds to write about it, before my memory of fades too much. Not that it could ever escape completely, because (as I said) I loved this book. I didn't know much about Davies, only that he was a famous Canadian author, and I bought this book used thinking that I should be exploring my Canadian heritage.* And I was totally wowed by the book. It is the story of Dunston Ramsey, or rather, a story told by Dunston Ramsey. Dunston comes to realize over the course of the novel that he has lived his life as a Fifth Business - a term, which derives from the opera, meaning to a supporting character , who, while he has no opposite of the other sex (being neither the hero nor heroine, villain nor rival), and is essential to the plot, for he often knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when all seems lost, or may even be the cause of someone's death. This is the role Dunston plays in his life, and the role he plays in the novel. For while Dunston is a compelling narrator, and a kind, honest and self-knowing man, his part in the story (and, perhaps, in life) is to tie together two disparate men, both of whom, like Dunston, got their start in the small town of Deptford, Ontario. One man is Percy "Boyd" Staunton, who becomes a famous business man - an almost Gatsby-esque type. The other is Paul Dempster, who runs away from home, joins the circus, and reappears as a famous magician. The two are linked through Paul's mother, a tragic figure whose life has taken on an almost religious significance for Dunston. I don't even know if I can explain why I loved this book so much. It was a well-told story about compelling characters, and was well crafted, too (both in the way the plot worked and in the writing). Most of all, I loved it because it was one of those books that you start reading, and you just sink into it's world. I felt like I knew Deptford, and Dunston, and all the peripheral characters, too. I was so interested in the people in the book, that the plot sort of caught me by surprise at the end - as did the fact that the end was near - a real change from, say Fahrenheit 451, where I was counting down the pages. It was like reading a comfort read - but for the very first time.** And best of all, Fifth Business is the first book in a trilogy! I hope that I like the other two as much as this one. And I secretly hope to learn (as the last few sentences sort of hinted at) that at the end of his life Dunston managed to become the hero of his own story. *Tangent time -- The whole Canada thing is sort of weird for me, in the following sense. Canada, like America, is a nation of immigrants unless you happen to be a Native American (er, Canadian)/First People/American (Canadian) Indian. My dad, and his ancestors going back are/were Canadian. In fact, I once participated in a smug little presentation about stereotypes in a college class about immigration (in the geography department) with a whole "guess which one of us is a first generation American" bit. And I think that some of my experiences are colored by that - the way I think about World War One, was, for sure, shaped by the fact that my great-grandfather was a veteran. I certainly have a fondness in my heart for the Canadian anthem, poutine and other things Canadian. However, being Canadian isn't really a heritage, like being Irish or Italian or what have you, right? I mean, I am as American as apple pie, deep down. The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday - majored in American history - would never, ever leave the country no matter how much I hated the administration and it's politics. And I can't say that my the fact that my dad was born in Quebec rather than Massachusetts has shaped me too deeply. I mean I didn't say that my experiences were coloured or anything. Hmmm. I will have to ponder on that more, probably someplace other than a poor little book blog entry on Robertson Davies. ** Not to suggest that the book is simple, or not of literary merit. It's just that there are some books that when I read them are so comforting and easy and engrossing, and this book was like that.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Teresa Proença

    Robertson Davies (Canadá, 1913 — 1995) escreveu onze romances, organizados em trilogias (a última inacabada). Este é o primeiro livro da denominada de Deptford e o único traduzido para português (para grande pena minha). Dunsten Ramsay - indignado com a notícia publicada num jornal, acerca do jantar de despedida da escola onde lecionou durante quarenta e cinco anos, na qual é retratado apenas como "um velho e típico mestre-escola" - faz uma exposição escrita, dirigida ao reitor, na qual conta a s Robertson Davies (Canadá, 1913 — 1995) escreveu onze romances, organizados em trilogias (a última inacabada). Este é o primeiro livro da denominada de Deptford e o único traduzido para português (para grande pena minha). Dunsten Ramsay - indignado com a notícia publicada num jornal, acerca do jantar de despedida da escola onde lecionou durante quarenta e cinco anos, na qual é retratado apenas como "um velho e típico mestre-escola" - faz uma exposição escrita, dirigida ao reitor, na qual conta a sua vida desde a infância. Uma vida fabulosa apesar de vivida, discretamente, no papel de Quinto da Discórdia*. Com uma prosa desenvolta, ora dramática, ora humorística, Davies criou personagens e histórias de vida que me encantaram, abordando temas universais e relacionando-os de uma forma muito peculiar: O Crime... A Loucura e a Inocência que lhe está subjacente; O Amor e o Desejo, que nem sempre fazem um par perfeito; A Beleza e o Grotesco em contraponto com a Ignorância e o Conhecimento; A Guerra e os seus horrores que geram Heróis acidentais; A Religião e a arte do Ilusionismo - os milagres e a magia; E o Castigo... *Quinto da Discórdia - No teatro e na ópera é a personagem que, embora secundária, tem um papel fundamental para o desfecho do drama por conhecer os segredos dos protagonistas principais.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jan Rice

    Fifth Business is a Really Good Book. I can't say enough about it. But on the other hand I could easily say too much. I hate to say what kind of book it is, since I didn't find that out until the end and don't want to spoil it for others. (I can say read the publisher's blurb, though, which seems to me to have little enough to do with the novel.) This is the Best Kind of Book, that's what! I think that, among other things, it's a bildungsroman, if that encompasses the development of the main cha Fifth Business is a Really Good Book. I can't say enough about it. But on the other hand I could easily say too much. I hate to say what kind of book it is, since I didn't find that out until the end and don't want to spoil it for others. (I can say read the publisher's blurb, though, which seems to me to have little enough to do with the novel.) This is the Best Kind of Book, that's what! I think that, among other things, it's a bildungsroman, if that encompasses the development of the main character and his discovery of wisdom across his whole lifetime. That could be what makes this book so wonderful. A strategy of the author is to have the characters from whom the protagonist receives wisdom speak in serial soliloquies--each taking center stage in turn. And it works! Wikipedia points out that this is also an epistolary novel, unfolding as a letter to his former boss the headmaster in protest of the dismissive and disrespectful tone of his retirement bio. But that didn't bother me; I mostly forgot about its being the contents of a (long!) letter. This book could be considered a historical novel since the author comes of age at the time of the Great War. He's a contemporary of my grandparents, then, and for readers in middle adulthood, the age of your great grandparents. Yet the book has a very contemporary feel. It's officially a Canadian novel, yet I felt at home with it. A good bit of the subject matter has to do with Christianity, but there's no anti-Judaism. Why that's so would make for an interesting discussion. There is no religiosity (meaning affectation) either. About this "fifth business" business that's supposed to mean a particular character who is not the hero, or the villain, or either of the other main roles, yet without him, nothing would happen. He's the one who activates the potential of the other characters and sets the plot in motion. That's what the author focused on. In real life, though, I guess we aren't so much limited to one role as privileged to play them all, eventually. For those who do audiobooks, the narrator, Marc Vietor, is perfection personified. Here's to a Great Book! I plan to get to the other books in the trilogy, and I figured out I could get to reread the Cornish Trilogy if I do the audios. Happiness....

  11. 4 out of 5

    Panagiotis

    Όταν τέλειωσα τον Μάγο του Φάουλς ήμουν συγκλονισμένος. Το βιβλίο ήταν τόσο καλό, τόσο αποκαλυπτικό, πλούσιο, καλογραμμένο, περιπετειώδες - ήταν ΤΟ βιβλίο. Ήταν τέτοιο το ταρακούνημα μετά την ανάγνωσή του, που άρχισα να ψάχνω για το βιβλίο: τα νοήματά του, τα "αν" και τα "μήπως", ερμηνείες και παρερμηνείες, και γενικά πράγματα που θα με έκαναν να καταλάβω καλύτερα το μεγαλείο αυτού του μυθιστορήματος. Μέχρις όπου έφτασα στο σημείο να ψάξω βιβλία παρόμοια με τον Μάγο. Αν ποτέ είναι δυνατόν ένα τέτ Όταν τέλειωσα τον Μάγο του Φάουλς ήμουν συγκλονισμένος. Το βιβλίο ήταν τόσο καλό, τόσο αποκαλυπτικό, πλούσιο, καλογραμμένο, περιπετειώδες - ήταν ΤΟ βιβλίο. Ήταν τέτοιο το ταρακούνημα μετά την ανάγνωσή του, που άρχισα να ψάχνω για το βιβλίο: τα νοήματά του, τα "αν" και τα "μήπως", ερμηνείες και παρερμηνείες, και γενικά πράγματα που θα με έκαναν να καταλάβω καλύτερα το μεγαλείο αυτού του μυθιστορήματος. Μέχρις όπου έφτασα στο σημείο να ψάξω βιβλία παρόμοια με τον Μάγο. Αν ποτέ είναι δυνατόν ένα τέτοιο εξαιρετικό βιβλίο να έχει κάπου έναν χαμένο αδερφάκι, αυτό είναι το βιβλίο του Davies. Είναι μεγάλη αδικία να ξεκινάω τα λόγια μου για τούτο, θέτωντάς το υπό την σκιά ενός άλλου βιβλίου, μα το έκανα μόνον χάριν του αναγνωστικού πλαισίου. Γιατί το βιβλίο τούτο είναι μια οντότητα ξεχωριστή, ένα καταπληκτικό βιβλίο και κάθε σύνδεση με τον Μάγο σταμάτησε μετά τις πρώτες σελίδες. Το βιβλίο έχει κάτι από εκείνη την σπάνια ποιότητα γραπτών που δεν διαβάζουμε συχνά: η φωνή του αφηγητή έχει την βραχνάδα ενός παλιού κρασιού, φινέτσα και δηκτικότητα μαζί. Είναι η ιστορία μιας ενηλικίωσης, είναι η ιστορία μιας σειράς από ανθρώπινα λάθη και ενοχές που βαρύνουν προγόνους και απογόνους. Ο Davies γράφει για την θρησκεία, για το Α΄ΠΑγκόσμιο πόλεμο, για το εκπαιδευτικό σύστημα και την ζωή στην επαρχία του Καναδά και ξέρει τι γράφει. Όπως ξέρει τι γράφει, όταν πασπαλίζει την ιστορία του με μυριάδες λεπτομέρειες, ψψυχογραφήματα ανθρώπων, εκκλησιάσματα, για την ιστορία των αγίων και για το τσίρκο με το οποίο το έσκασε από το σπίτι του ο Πολ Ντέμπστερ. Έχω δημιουργήσει, όμως, το ερώτημα που κρέμεται πάνω απο το κεφάλι μου πια: είναι σαν τον Μάγο; Είναι αντάξιό του; Του μοιάζει; Παρότι άδικη ερώτηση για ένα τέτοιο ξεχωριστό επίτευμα θα πω πως αναγνωρίζω τις ομοιότητες: η ενηλικίωση του πρωταγωνιστή είναι ένα περιπετειώδες αφήγημα, πνιγμένη στα αινίγματα, από το μυστήριο που χάνεται όσο τα χρόνια περνούν. Ο κόσμος αλλάζει γύρω του, καθώς αλλάζει και ο ίδιος. Υπάρχουν, δε, κάποια κομβικά στοιχεία της ιστορίας που στέκουν βουβά, σαν άλυτα αινίγματα. Αντίθετα, όμως, με τον Φάουλς, ο Davies φαίνεται να παρουσιάζει ένα σκοτεινό κόσμο, ο άνθρωπος είναι έρμαιο των αδυναμιών του και θα πληρώσει για αυτό αργά ή γρήγορα. Το βιβλίο είναι το πρώτο μέρος της τριλογίας. Οι γραμμές τούτες γράγονται υπό την ζάλη του δεύτερου βιβλίου, The Manticore.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ailsa

    Effortless to read. I rarely become this engrossed in a novel. Robertson Davies is a wonderful storyteller. Reminds me of a better (and more concise) John Irving.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Jones

    The first (and best) novel in the famed Deptford Trilogy is as rare and wonderful as anything in literature. There are very few novels that manage to be so erudite (the number of classical and mythological references is mind boggling) and tightly-plotted. In fact the story unfolds at such a break-neck pace that Tom Clancy ought to read it to get some pointers on building suspense. And John Irving ought to give one dollar for every book he's ever sold to the estate of Robertson Davies...but that' The first (and best) novel in the famed Deptford Trilogy is as rare and wonderful as anything in literature. There are very few novels that manage to be so erudite (the number of classical and mythological references is mind boggling) and tightly-plotted. In fact the story unfolds at such a break-neck pace that Tom Clancy ought to read it to get some pointers on building suspense. And John Irving ought to give one dollar for every book he's ever sold to the estate of Robertson Davies...but that's another story. In the winter of 1908, in the small Ontario town of Deptford, a spiteful boy throws a snowball with a rock in it at another boy. This impulsive act turns out to have life-altering consequences for both boys, as well as for a third boy who is still in the womb at the time of the incident. The intended target of the snowball, Dunstan Ramsay, is racked with guilt when a pregnant young lady, Mary Dempster, receives the blow meant for him. The injury induces a premature birth and forever alters the sensibilities of Mary Dempster. Out of a sense of partial responsibility Ramsey takes a personal interest in Paul, Mary's sickly small baby, and acts as a guardian and friend to the child as it grows. Later in his life, consumed by intellectual and spiritual pursuits, Ramsay settles in to the quiet life of a teacher in a boarding school. The thrower of the snowball, the pampered Percy "Boy" Staunton, never shows any sign of remorse. Son of the town's elite, Staunton is sent to the best schools and soon becomes a wealthy captain of industry. A man of nearly limitless ambition, Staunton begins to pull strings in order to add respectability to his wealth. Paul, son of the stricken Mary Dempster, is too fragile to participate in the normal rambunctious activities of boyhood, but at an early age he discovers he has an uncanny talent for magic tricks. While still a boy Paul runs away from Deptford and after many years it seems that the lives of the three men have gone off in three completely different directions. But fate draws them together again and there is a final accounting for that night decades earlier in Deptford. That journey of the book takes the reader across continents, delving into spirituality, vengeance, magic and love along the way. It is a simply remarkable book that invites (and stands up to) many re-readings.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Madelyn Ck

    I cannot stand this book. It may be technically interesting, and good archetype study, but its entire premise fails. Dunny's contention is that his life WAS interesting, despite indications otherwise. Too bad he told the story in the most long winded and torpor-inducing way possible. The character's life was certainly eventful, but not at all interesting. This is a mind-bogglingly boring book to read. You know Grandpa Simpson's "onion on my belt, which was the style at the time" speech? This is I cannot stand this book. It may be technically interesting, and good archetype study, but its entire premise fails. Dunny's contention is that his life WAS interesting, despite indications otherwise. Too bad he told the story in the most long winded and torpor-inducing way possible. The character's life was certainly eventful, but not at all interesting. This is a mind-bogglingly boring book to read. You know Grandpa Simpson's "onion on my belt, which was the style at the time" speech? This is the literary equivalent. My eyes were so glazed you could have sold them at Tim Horton's. The fact that it's a staple of grade 12 reading lists is a travesty. Do a bunch of teenagers care about a stodgy old well-off white dude's struggles? His guilt is uninspiring. The characters are two-dimensional and their motivations incomprehensible. "I like saints!" Nobody cares. This book was so uninteresting to me, I could barely get through it. This from a student that devoured other literary classics. I'm now a secondary school English teacher and it is my mission in life to keep books like this OFF the reading list. Just because it's Canadian doesn't mean it's good! Every student I've ever spoken to loathed this book. It's novels like this that convince students that literature has nothing to offer them and kills the joy of reading. Pass it up, unless you're looking for a bedtime read to cure your insomnia.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kirstin

    "Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the dénouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business." –Robertson Davies Fifth Buisness is the memoir of Dunstable(Dunstan) Ramsey, newly retired school teacher unhappy with his farewell write-up in the school "Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the dénouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business." –Robertson Davies Fifth Buisness is the memoir of Dunstable(Dunstan) Ramsey, newly retired school teacher unhappy with his farewell write-up in the school paper. "...I was deeply offended by the idiotic piece that appeared in the College Chronicle...it is not merely its illiteracy of tone that disgusts me, but its presentation to the public of myself as a typical old schoolmaster doddering into retirement with tears in his eyes and a drop hanging from my nose." And so he begins to tell his story and presents to the reader the idea of 'fifth buisness'. How life, like a play has heroes, villains and supporting characters, and how sometimes the most mundane moments are the defining ones. Beautifully written and charming, this is a book I would read again. I'll be thinking about for a while.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Fifth Business has steadily moved up the ranks of my quaint list of favourite books. It teeters towards the top as an overwhelming reflection of Canada, the Scotch immigrants who settled here, and perhaps even me. I learned a lot about my mother, my grandfather, and myself in reading this book. Is that the epitome of the Fifth Business, or the antithesis? To assume I can see my own lineage woven through the fabric of a tale published a decade before my conception? There is something so hauntingl Fifth Business has steadily moved up the ranks of my quaint list of favourite books. It teeters towards the top as an overwhelming reflection of Canada, the Scotch immigrants who settled here, and perhaps even me. I learned a lot about my mother, my grandfather, and myself in reading this book. Is that the epitome of the Fifth Business, or the antithesis? To assume I can see my own lineage woven through the fabric of a tale published a decade before my conception? There is something so hauntingly Canadian about this tale, and specifically it's author. Not Robertson Davies, but the man who has written these memoirs. The man who observes, quietly and swollen with guilt, the amass of players who dip in and out of his life. His life, as he writes it, is composed of choices others have made in the vicinity of his objective and quizzical temperament. He sees life as a story, in which other figures are key elements to its progression. He is simply the orator, the pantheon which witnesses and documents the events of history, without infringing or encroaching on them. “When a writer knows home in his heart, his heart must remain subtly apart from it. He must always be a stranger to the place he loves, and its people.” -- William Morris Check out Hello, Hemlock! for more in-depth reviews: http://youtube.com/hellohemlocko

  17. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    I love this book--it is one of my comfort reads. I took it to Ecuador with me for pleasant airport/airplane reading and now remember why I love it so much. It was the first Canadian literature that I was introduced to in undergraduate university days and it got me excited about Can Lit. Perhaps this novel speaks to me because I used to feel a bit like Fifth Business in my own life--a supporting cast member to those around me. But I think since those undergraduate days, I have learned to be the th I love this book--it is one of my comfort reads. I took it to Ecuador with me for pleasant airport/airplane reading and now remember why I love it so much. It was the first Canadian literature that I was introduced to in undergraduate university days and it got me excited about Can Lit. Perhaps this novel speaks to me because I used to feel a bit like Fifth Business in my own life--a supporting cast member to those around me. But I think since those undergraduate days, I have learned to be the the star of my own show, at least most of the time. I identified with Dunstan Ramsey--not really fitting in to his community, having intellectual aspirations, enjoying education, and eventually, pursuing a pass-time that many people don't quite understand. For him, is was hagiography, for me it is birding. People who aren't involved in these fields tend to think of us as loonies. And maybe we are, but it is enjoyable lunacy. As Dunstan says to Boy Staunton, why should the opinions of ignorant people influence what I do? Robertson Davies' theatre experience comes through loud & clear in this first installment of the Deptford trilogy. He seems to very much agree with Shakespeare that all the world's a stage and all the men and women in it merely players.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Katerina

    Как приятно возвращаться к книгам спустя много лет и осознавать: в 17 лет ты уже могла отличить хорошую книгу от плохой, а именно эта оказалась настолько хорошей, что и через ещё десять лет вернуться к ней не помешает. (And the audible production is really good, the narrator fits the text perfectly and treats it with due respect.)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ben Babcock

    I do not like the cover on this edition of Fifth Business. I don't remember when I first read this book—definitely in high school, but I hate to say that it's now long enough ago I can't remember the exact grade. I didn't like the cover then, and I don't like it now. There is just something unsettling about the composite of faces. I interpret it as a representation of the various people we are, at different stages of our life and even simultaneously, an allusion to the Jungian archetypes that be I do not like the cover on this edition of Fifth Business. I don't remember when I first read this book—definitely in high school, but I hate to say that it's now long enough ago I can't remember the exact grade. I didn't like the cover then, and I don't like it now. There is just something unsettling about the composite of faces. I interpret it as a representation of the various people we are, at different stages of our life and even simultaneously, an allusion to the Jungian archetypes that become more pronounced in the later books in the trilogy. Nevertheless, I just disturbs me. And I suppose I could have bought one of the newer editions, which have quite different covers, as I did for World of Wonders. Yet I got this for free from BookMooch—and besides, I won't judge a book by its cover. The best way I can explain how I feel like Fifth Business is like so: it's the kind of book I have no trouble imagining as a movie, but I know that if one were ever made, it would almost certainly suck. (it appears that the rights were tied up in legal hell for thirty years). I just don't see how a movie could adequately capture Dunstan Ramsay's narration, and it's Dunstan's voice that makes Fifth Business so powerful. Dunstan is not the sort of character one would imagine as the main character of a novel. (This is, in fact, rather the point of the title.) He lives on the periphery of the lives of other characters who seem like they are up to things much more interesting than anything he does. From the rich and powerful Percy Boyd "Boy" Staunton to the mysterious magician Magnus Eisengrim, Dunstan is a witness. This is obvious from the first scene of the book. A young Boy throws a snowball at Dunstan, and in an example of Boy's vicious streak, it has a core of rock. When Dunstan ducks, the snowball hits the pregnant Mrs. Dempster instead, an event that reverberates through the entire novel. As a narrator, Dunstan is everything I enjoy. He's self-deprecating, but not to the point of whining or over-extending his attempts at humour. He passes judgement on his younger selves, but that judgement and his contrition are genuine, rather than smug or superior. And Robertson Davies made Dunstan a writer, which provides perfect justification for the clever, indulgent little passages like this one: I thought I was in love with Leola, by which I meant that if I could have found her in a quiet corner, and if I had been certain that no one would ever find out, and if I could have summoned up the courage at the right moment, I would have kissed her. Dunstan appears earnest and honest, confessing to his foibles—his childhood lust for Leola, his sense of responsibility for Mrs. Dempster's condition and Paul Dempster's new life—but one of the themes of Fifth Business concerns how we conflate myth and history to recreate ourselves. And so, Davies has gone a little meta on us and done the same with Dunstan as the narrator. As he recounts his life to the headmaster of Colborne College—the entire novel is actually epistolary—he is creating a version of himself, a myth of himself. We all do it, and that is one of Dunstan's points. No character better exemplifies this than Boy Staunton, who might be my favourite character (other than Dunstan). In fact, Dunstan is at his best in his scenes opposite Boy. Though Fifth Business lacks an antagonist per se, Boy certainly serves in that role on occasion. He is a sometime rival, sometime ally of Dunstan, and they are friends almost as much out of necessity as out of any sense of kinship or fondness. Dunstan and Leola are Boy's last links to the village of Deptford, and I think Boy keeps Dunstan around for that reason. Boy, of course, begins reimagining himself by dropping his first name, Percy, and shortening "Boyd" to the more youthful "Boy." He quickly corners the market on sugar and soft drinks and candy and graduates into the land of corporate tycoons who own fabulously rich companies that do nothing but manage other fabulously rich companies. When the Second World War breaks out, Boy goes into politics. He essentially becomes detached from reality, his vision of the world skewed by his own eerie success. Dunstan is the only one who ever attempts to talk sense to Boy, and that seldom works. Dunstan emphasizes Boy's petulance. Of course, we shouldn't necessarily take Dunstan at his word, but this is what makes Boy one of the most interesting characters, and one of the darkest. He has climbed so high, but when he is finally re-united with the now-adult Paul Dempster, he falls. He has edited out any memory of ever throwing the snowball that led to Paul's premature birth, but deep down inside, he's still the capricious, spoiled boy. Just as Dunstan is a curious, serious, yet sometimes altogether-too-credulous boy who doesn't quite belong in our society. Other than the narrator, the other awesome thing about Fifth Business is that it's short. This may sound like a surprise coming from me, a guy who loves doorstopper fantasy novels and recently complained that Liars and Saints, at 260 pages, could not do its multi-generational story justice. My copy of Fifth Business is only 266 pages—but in comparison, it is the autobiography of a single man. It is intensely, almost compulsively purposeful in scope; Davies fanatically reins in any attempt by Dunstan to comment at length about matters of world politics or history. The entire First World War takes only a single chapter, but it works for the type of story Davies is trying to tell. Unlike Liars and Saints, where I felt like I was marking time until the end of the book, every moment of Fifth Business is alive and full of potential. I can't help it: it's also Canadian, OK? And not aggressively Canadian, like so much Canadian literature, nor politely and apologetically Canadian. But I feel that growing up as Canadian was an essential part of making Dunstan Ramsay the character and narrator that he was. From our immediate involvement in both the World Wars, to Dunstan's Victoria Cross, to Boy's bid for the Lieutenant-Governorship, this book is filled with aspects of Canadian culture. Fifth Business isn't just good, or great, or even simply amazing. It's an iconic book, one of few that I feel deserve the label of "classic." My Reviews of the Deptford Trilogy: The Manticore →

  20. 4 out of 5

    Agnė

    WHAT IS IT ABOUT? "Fifth Business,” the first book in The Deptford Trilogy by Canadian writer Robertson Davies, is Dunstan Ramsay’s memoir written as a letter to a Headmaster of Colborne College, where Dunstan was teaching for 45 years. This letter-memoir was provoked by a farewell article which offended Dunstan deeply as it downplayed his accomplishments and presented him as "a typical old schoolmaster doddering into retirement with tears in his eyes and a drop hanging from his nose." The story WHAT IS IT ABOUT? "Fifth Business,” the first book in The Deptford Trilogy by Canadian writer Robertson Davies, is Dunstan Ramsay’s memoir written as a letter to a Headmaster of Colborne College, where Dunstan was teaching for 45 years. This letter-memoir was provoked by a farewell article which offended Dunstan deeply as it downplayed his accomplishments and presented him as "a typical old schoolmaster doddering into retirement with tears in his eyes and a drop hanging from his nose." The story told by this letter-memoir turned out to be far away from what at first sight might look quite ordinary. THUMBS UP: 1) Beautiful writing and thought-provoking content. Not without a reason "Fifth Business'' is a classic: the writing is so simple yet so beautiful (truly a piece of art), and the main themes, such as religion and morality, illusion and reality, debilitating effects of guilt, and lifelong effects of childhood and family, offer timeless lessons. It is one of those books which demands to be thought about, if not read, over and over, and which gets better the more you do so. It is a great choice for a book club! 2) Wide vocabulary. One of the reasons that made Robertson Davies' prose so beautiful is his ability to pick just the right words: descriptive, playful, and often not very common. Such a wide vocabulary not only makes his writing more lively but also serves as a great vocabulary exercise as most of these words are rarely used in everyday conversations. COULD BE BETTER: 1) Strong beginning and ending but a little bit slow in between. I especially loved the first third of the book and gobbled it up in a day, but later the action slowed down, and my excitement wore off. The last chapter was captivating yet again, and the ending remarks made it all worth it, but somewhere in the middle I caught myself wishing that the book was shorter. However, it might be just me getting tired of extensive dictionary search because, since English is not my native language, I was looking up several words per page as I wanted to understand every single wordplay or colorful epithet. VERDICT: 4 out of 5 Although I really liked the main themes and the writing style of this book, the story itself could have been a little bit more eventful.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    This isn't about a boy who, through vicious thoughtlessness, nearly destroys an entire family and denies it for the rest of his life. It's not about his poor wife. It's not about the woman he injures, who may be a saint; it's not about the son who barely survives and goes on to be the world's greatest magician, and it's certainly not about whether vengeance will ever be served. It's about Fifth Business, the "odd man out," a bystander:Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, C This isn't about a boy who, through vicious thoughtlessness, nearly destroys an entire family and denies it for the rest of his life. It's not about his poor wife. It's not about the woman he injures, who may be a saint; it's not about the son who barely survives and goes on to be the world's greatest magician, and it's certainly not about whether vengeance will ever be served. It's about Fifth Business, the "odd man out," a bystander:Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were none the less essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement. Davies made the term up, but it's a time-honored tradition. Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby is Fifth Business. Charles Ryder from Brideshead Revisited is Fifth Business. Bilbo Baggins is Fifth Business. Fifth Business here is Dunstan Ramsey, a pedantic old schoolteacher given to traipsing around Europe looking at statues of saints. He's unreliable, possibly as a narrator of events, certainly as a judge of himself. On his retirement he's been condescendingly eulogized as "a senile, former worthy who has stumbled through forty-five years of teaching...with a bee in his bonnet about myth;" this book is a rambling letter meant as a rebuttal, but which accidentally succeeds in proving the eulogy. There's a lot going on between the lines. Everyone remembers their lives differently. All three of the male characters change their names, and all have different ideas of who they are and who each other is. There may be magic. It's often funny, but the ending takes a viciously dark turn: (view spoiler)[Paul Dempster, the great magician, reveals that he was sexually abused for his entire youth by a man he later forces to eat worms to pay for his morphine habit. He then murders Boy Staunton, who threw the rock-embedded snowball that catalyzes the book. (hide spoiler)] The overall effect is explosively casual; it feels as though Robertson Davies just tossed the whole thing off. It's like a collision of Victor Hugo's coincidence and Martin Amis's postmodern lunacy. Only the best writers can produce these effortless miracles. Davies was a fan of Nabokov, whom he called an enchanter. He has certainly produced magic here.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Terri Jacobson

    This is the first book of Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy, and it's a challenge and a joy to read. The writing is luscious and deep with many touches of humor. Davies introduces all the themes of this trilogy in this first volume. We are introduced to Dunstable (Dunstan) Ramsey as a young boy, and the characters of his childhood have a great impact on his growth and development as a person. Davies explains the concept of "Fifth Business", someone or something that has great influence on t This is the first book of Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy, and it's a challenge and a joy to read. The writing is luscious and deep with many touches of humor. Davies introduces all the themes of this trilogy in this first volume. We are introduced to Dunstable (Dunstan) Ramsey as a young boy, and the characters of his childhood have a great impact on his growth and development as a person. Davies explains the concept of "Fifth Business", someone or something that has great influence on the course of events, but only in an indirect way. One can apply this to a person, as Ramsay does to himself, or one can apply it to a country, as in the relationship of Canada to the U.S. (Davies is for me the quintessential Canadian writer.) He also begins to explore the Jungian concepts of synchronicity, personal mythology, and the shadow self. Ramsay also begins to study the lives of Catholic saints, and this becomes an important aspect of the book. This volume is a terrific start to the trilogy. It's well-written and engrossing. A wonderful reading experience.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    Robertson Davies is one of my favorite writers, because I feel so intellectual and learned when I read him. Fifth Business is the first novel in the Deptford trilogy. The plot is complicated and intricate, but you only realize that when you've finished because the prose is so effortless. Fifth business is a dramatic term denoting a character who is neither the hero nor the villain in the play, but the person who precipitates the events taking place by his relationship to the main characters. Thi Robertson Davies is one of my favorite writers, because I feel so intellectual and learned when I read him. Fifth Business is the first novel in the Deptford trilogy. The plot is complicated and intricate, but you only realize that when you've finished because the prose is so effortless. Fifth business is a dramatic term denoting a character who is neither the hero nor the villain in the play, but the person who precipitates the events taking place by his relationship to the main characters. This tale is full of saints and sinners, starting in a small town in Canada, (Deptford) and continueing all over the world. If Robertson Davies is not the most celebrated Canadian author, he should be. You will finish this book feeling infinitely smarter than when you began, simply because you were under Davies spell for the duration.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anna H

    Not sure what to say about the book, because I didn't find it spectacular but not terrible either -- oh the curse of the three-star novel! Good but not great? Another "classic" that probably plays well in English classes with English teachers, as it would be easy to discuss the character interplay in a literature class: the meaning of "fifth business" and how the rest of the story ultimately revolves around a central character who doesn't play the central action of the story, but whose presence dr Not sure what to say about the book, because I didn't find it spectacular but not terrible either -- oh the curse of the three-star novel! Good but not great? Another "classic" that probably plays well in English classes with English teachers, as it would be easy to discuss the character interplay in a literature class: the meaning of "fifth business" and how the rest of the story ultimately revolves around a central character who doesn't play the central action of the story, but whose presence drives the other characters to turn into what they do, and so on. So these plot devices are nice to notice, but as with so many books published in the '70s, I can't help but get the feeling this is one of those "important" books that you can enjoy, but actual enjoyment is secondary to appreciating the art. Eh, it's OK....

  25. 5 out of 5

    Akshita

    I honestly didn't understand this book.....and neither did my classmates. Although this book may have many archatypes....I think a different bookight have been better as this book didn't seem to grasp anyone's attention in our class. I feel this book can be better understood by people who are more mature and should be read when you are older....not grade 11....because you cannot relate to the characters or anything the book is talking about at that age.......!!!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paul Secor

    As I did with the Cornish Trilogy, I read the last volume of the Deptford Trilogy, World of Wonders, first - for no good reason, other than it was readily available to read. And, as with the Cornish Trilogy, I'm finding that this was a big, big mistake, so I'm reading Deptford from the beginning and will reread World of Wonders. Robertson Davies was one of the master storytellers of the twentieth century. One of the things I enjoy about his novels is that no one is perfect. Just as in life, no on As I did with the Cornish Trilogy, I read the last volume of the Deptford Trilogy, World of Wonders, first - for no good reason, other than it was readily available to read. And, as with the Cornish Trilogy, I'm finding that this was a big, big mistake, so I'm reading Deptford from the beginning and will reread World of Wonders. Robertson Davies was one of the master storytellers of the twentieth century. One of the things I enjoy about his novels is that no one is perfect. Just as in life, no one is a complete hero and no one is a complete villain. I promise myself that when I get to the Salterton Trilogy, that I will begin at the beginning.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Minerva

    If anyone ever tells you to read this, punch them in the face and never speak to them again.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jerry

    My lifelong involvement with the Fifth Business began at 5:58 o’clock pm on 1 March 2010. I still remember the strong feelings and expressions on my face as I eagerly scanned your letter, and I must say Mr Dunstan, your letter was beyond crafty and colourful – it was ingenious. It revealed the truths, the lies, and those burning thoughts you held within your mind for all these years. You took me through a truly marvellous journey. You had me confused at first when you talked about the Mrs Dempst My lifelong involvement with the Fifth Business began at 5:58 o’clock pm on 1 March 2010. I still remember the strong feelings and expressions on my face as I eagerly scanned your letter, and I must say Mr Dunstan, your letter was beyond crafty and colourful – it was ingenious. It revealed the truths, the lies, and those burning thoughts you held within your mind for all these years. You took me through a truly marvellous journey. You had me confused at first when you talked about the Mrs Dempster incident that scarred the life of yourself as well as others. You were erratic in the letter, jumping from different events and times in your life, providing small pieces that were important but would not tell the entire story. Perhaps the most skilfully thing was your ability to arouse my interest in your life as the burning question arose, what is considered “lifelong involvement with Mrs Dempster” and why is this event so crucial in the first place? The design of the entire letter was flawless; with the first few enticing pages you provided the background of a pivotal event along with the hidden meaning of the “fifth business”. Following up with our recent farewell dinner – which I remember so dearly and I must say, you were a great teacher – and finally to the story of your entire life starting from the very beginning. And it is this emotional hook, as I travelled though your life in your eyes, in your thoughts, and in your memories, that allowed me to understand you, the great history teacher, as though our lives have entwined. The events, thoughts, and choices throughout your life gave you the role as the “fifth business” and I feel compassion and empathy for you. If you were not sledding with Percy, if you had not ducked from the snowball, and it had not hit Mrs Dempster, your life as well as the life of many others would have a completely different fate. Mrs Dempster would not be “simple”, Paul Dempster would not have become a circus freak runaway, and Percy may not have passed away so early, likely because of the guilt he carried for all these years. The pivotal event and object? Numerous. And unbelievably a simple snowball and a magic trick was more than enough to alter the destiny of the many characters throughout your life. And it is the exploration into themes like religion, saints, myths, choices, moral, guilt, and “fifth business” that makes your life so compelling and intriguing. In your letter, you say, “ he was accusing me of putting playing-cards – he called them the Devil’s picture-book – into the hands of his son Paul”, illustrating a crucial event that influenced Paul to run away from home and also showcasing the connections and importance of religion throughout your life. The people were displayed through your eyes and your thoughts which was an interesting method to understand the various characters in your life. You say it with such passion, honesty, bias, and at times with humour, that it practically paints a vivid picture within my mind as though I had met everyone one in your life personally. I usually throw aside long letters like yours, but your story was enlightening and gripping, every page I read. The secrets, the mysteries, the regret, and even the title, they held me until the last few pages of your letter that answers flew out like flying rainbows. I always knew you were a great history professor, and this story has given me a valuable opportunity of understanding you. I must commend you, Mr Dunstan, as your letter has done more than opened up your world and thoughts, with skilful and engaging diction, but it is as if you have painted a beautiful portrait, one that is practically palpable. And that Dunstan, is all I have to tell you. Toronto 2010

  29. 4 out of 5

    Yair Ben-Zvi

    There's something distinctly lacking in a lot of modern literature that this somewhat more antiquated piece of literature has in spades: enthusiasm. In fact, not since the better prose of Saul Bellow have I experienced a literature so determinedly skillful and driven to a single point, that point being adventurous literary exploration and analysis of themes and ideas fettered smoothly to the act of storytelling; that the depth of theme never overshadows the exigencies of storytelling puts Robert There's something distinctly lacking in a lot of modern literature that this somewhat more antiquated piece of literature has in spades: enthusiasm. In fact, not since the better prose of Saul Bellow have I experienced a literature so determinedly skillful and driven to a single point, that point being adventurous literary exploration and analysis of themes and ideas fettered smoothly to the act of storytelling; that the depth of theme never overshadows the exigencies of storytelling puts Robertson Davies somewhat on par with a Bellow though lacking just a bit in what Bellow had, that is, a singular and distinctive voice. Now, don't get me wrong, Davies writes with a consummate skill. But unlike a Bellow who so self-consciously (at times to the point of bursting) set out to manicure and cultivate a dialectical voice that was equal parts 'American', 'European', and overall 'Jewish' (though the protean nature of the final term is such that, surprise, Bellow is hardly the final word on the subject, thankfully), Davies adheres just a bit too much to the occidental, to the old and classically European school of literary expression. This isn't a bad thing, far from it. Rather it just more directly shows Davies influences and authorial precedents...but I would be lying if I said that Davies definitively and insolubly declared himself in the face of all these influences, rather he writes 'his turn'. But overall this is a reader's novel and should be enjoyed (very much so) as such. If you're looking for the kind of literature that is unfortunately just this side of scarce in our modern, cynical, and ironic era, then give yourself leave to read this earnest and very compelling story of a man 'twice born'.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Carlo

    I'm ashamed to say I bought this book in a used bookstore because of the cover, which I'm doubly ashamed to say that I liked WTF....yeas, I know. Anyway, as I'm preparing to make Canada my permanent home in the coming months, I wanted to explore Canadian literature and came across the book in one of the top-10-Canadian-novels-of-all-time lists online. Well, it was a great surprise! How I enjoyed reading this little gem of a book! The simple yet beautifully told story, full of wit and satire absorb I'm ashamed to say I bought this book in a used bookstore because of the cover, which I'm doubly ashamed to say that I liked WTF....yeas, I know. Anyway, as I'm preparing to make Canada my permanent home in the coming months, I wanted to explore Canadian literature and came across the book in one of the top-10-Canadian-novels-of-all-time lists online. Well, it was a great surprise! How I enjoyed reading this little gem of a book! The simple yet beautifully told story, full of wit and satire absorbed me fully into its world. I'm not sure if I grasped all the mythological references, but those that I did left me fascinated. I would surely be reading the two other books of the Deptford Trilogy and the other books of Davies. I read Atwood and Martel, and can't say I enjoyed either half as much as I enjoyed reading this. To know that the guy wrote 10 other novels makes me ecstatic!

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