Monday, March 11, 2013
review: The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
When you start a book that is the first of a trilogy there is a part of you that starts to prepare for a long literary journey. You expect to read a book that is set at a pace where you finish with plenty of questions left unanswered.
It is quite rare to come across the first part of a trilogy that can be read as a volume in its own right. Perhaps the flipside of that is once you have finished there is not the urgency to continue with the next volume. As a result thThe Fifth Business is as far as I got in the Deptford Trilogy and it might be as far as I ever get as the desire to read on further is not particularly strong.
That's not to say this wasn't enjoyable. It was a dense memoir of the life of Dunstan Ramsey, who is writing a memoir as he comes to the end of his time as a teacher at a college addressing it to the headmaster.
The story starts with a tale of two friends and slight rivals who have a snowball fight and bring on the premature birth of the vicar's son as a snowball intended for Ramsey hits the pregnant woman instead of the intended victim. The tale then jumps to the current setting - 1969 - which is when the memoir is being penned. It is a memoir written with a fair amount of anger with Ramsey hitting back at those who have attacked his life's work of hagiography as a bit of nonsense that is far away from being an academic subject.
As he trawls through his life he shares some of the stories that happened to him and came out of that childhood in Deptford in Canada. and a couple of main characters emerge - Boy Stanton who threw the snowball and the child that was born as a result Paul Dempster.
Over several sections the story of Ramsey's life interlinks with these two other characters until a final moment when they meet each other and a sense of destiny emerges with dreadful results for Ramsey who realises that although he was often relegated to watching the action from the side of the stage he was in fact a catalyst for many things that happened.
In a way it doesn't matter how far Ramsey travels looking to satisfy his interests in saints he is always grounded in that small town of Deptford with his past holding him back as well as shaping his future.
Would I want to go on and read the Manticore - the second part? Not sure but as a book in its own right the Fifth Business is a decent read.