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Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Fifth Business (original 1970; edition 1970)

by Robertson Davies

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2,313622,736 (4.19)1 / 279
Title:Fifth Business
Authors:Robertson Davies
Info:Viking Adult (1970), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 309 pages
Collections:Read but unowned, Favorites, Rec collection
Tags:fiction, Toronto, WWI

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Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (1970)


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English (55)  Spanish (5)  Catalan (2)  All languages (62)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
Not much I can say that hasn't already been said by others. Davies has a wonderfully accessible writing style. He brings lofty topics like religion, sainthood, philosophy and morality to his story without going all "high-brow". He also has a way with words that I found engaging... I felt as though Ramsey was laying plain his life story directly to me, like a conversation between two people sitting around a kitchen table over a cup of coffee. Don't get me wrong, though... this is anything but a simple, straightforward story. Davies knows how to write in a way that kept me wanting to read more so it came as no surprise to me that I managed to read the entire book in the course of three evenings. I love the idea of the 'Fifth Business' - that one cannot make the plot work unless there is a odd member of the cast that has no rival/partner but carries the twist of the plot as he is the one who know a secret the others do not - and can understand why Davies chose this as the title for his story.

Robertson Davies is undoubtedly one of the pillars mentioned whenever a conversation of noteworthy Canadian authors comes up and it is that reputation of lofty acclaim that always held me back from attempting to read any of his books... I was afraid his books would be filled with topics that would go over my head, making me feel inadequate as a reader. I no longer have those thoughts/fears. I now happily and excitedly look forward to reading everything Davies has written. ( )
1 vote lkernagh | Jan 31, 2016 |
The first novel in The Deptford Trilogy concerns three men, Dunstable Ramsay, Percy Boyd "Boy" Staunton, and Paul Dempster, who grew up in the fictional Canadian town of Deptford, which is based on Robertson Davies' home town of Thamesville, Ontario. Their lives are linked by the events on one fateful day in 1908, when young Percy throws a snowball in anger at Dunstable, and instead hits Paul's mother, who is pregnant with him, causing her to go into premature labor that evening. The novel is narrated by Dunstable, in the form of a letter about his life to the headmaster of the school that he has taught in for years and recently retired from. The lives and loves of Percy and Paul are integral to his own life, so we learn about them, and how the three influenced each other, for good as well as bad.

The three men lead fascinating lives, and each finds success in a different fashion, although none escape from personal tragedy. The novel is full of twists and unexpected turns, and it was very well written and a definite page turner. Instead of describing what happens to the three and possibly spoil the surprises I would suggest that you read the literary treat that is Fifth Business for yourself. I own The Deptford Trilogy, and I eagerly look forward to reading the remaining two novels, The Manticore and World of Wonders, later this year. ( )
1 vote kidzdoc | Jan 29, 2016 |
First installment of his Deptford Trilogy, this is Davis' best book. It contains a whole book full of wonderfully complex characters. While it is certainly not necessary to read the whole trilogy, if one does so one gains unique insight into Davies life. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
"This is the revenge of the unlived life, Ramsay. Suddenly it makes a fool of you."

"The prima donna and the tenor, the contralto and the basso, get all the best music and do all the spectacular things, but you cannot manage the plot without Fifth Business!"

Ten-year-old Dunstable Ramsay smartly dodges the snowball, thrown by Percy Boyd (later, Boy) Staunton. Said snowball hits the pregnant Mrs. Dempster, instead, leading perhaps to the premature birth of Paul. Told from Ramsay's point of view, Fifth Business is the story of his life and his various involvements with Boy Staunton and Paul Dempster. Staunton becomes a filthy rich industrialist and Paul runs off to join the circus while Ramsay plods along what must be considered a more mundane path: time in the trenches during WWI, education, and a career spent teaching boys in a fairly mediocre boarding school. To be both the Fifth Business and the protagonist is perhaps a bit of irony, or perhaps it is a profound statement on the universality of being the first-person narrator in our own (sometimes undramatic) dramas. In any case, this is a delightful novel with memorable characters. I will certainly be reading the second book in Robertson's Deptford Trilogy. ( )
  EBT1002 | Aug 12, 2015 |
I think I have read this book before as some of the parts seemed familiar especially one particular line but I really do not remember anything substantial about it. When I saw it was on the list of 100 Books the Make you Proud to be Canadian published by CBC Books this year I knew it was the time to read it.

Dunstan (born Dunstable) Ramsey grew up in Deptford, a small Ontario town. His father was the editor of the town newspaper and his mother raised Dunstan and his brother while also helping out neighbours in "matters relating to pregnancy and childbirth". She was called on in this capacity to attend to the Baptist parson's wife, Mrs. Dempster, when her baby came early. The circumstances leading to the premature birth involved Dunstan and his "lifelong friend and enemy" Percy Boyd Staunton. The two had quarrelled over the merits of their respective sleighs and as Dunstan went home Percy followed him throwing snowballs at him. Just as Dunstan got near his house Reverend and Mrs Dempster were seen out for a stroll. To avoid one last snowball from Percy Dunstan darted in front of the couple and the snowball hit Mrs. Dempster. She went down hard and started crying. The baby came that night and Mrs. Ramsey was on hand with the doctor to help out. The baby, Paul, survived but Mrs. Dempster seemed not right in the head; simple as the Deptford people called her. Dunstan felt responsible for what had befallen her and, even when she was disgraced, he continued to visit her. He believed she had performed miracles, including raising his brother from the dead, which led him to study saints for the rest of his life.

The title of the book refers to the theatrical convention that every play and opera must have, besides the hero, heroine, confidante and villain, a role that brings about the conclusion which is called Fifth Business. Dunstan Ramsey is the Fifth Business in this story about fate catching up to a perpetrator even if it takes almost a lifetime. It took me a while to figure out who the fulfilled the role of the confidante and it really could be two people. Dunstan writes this book to the Headmaster of the school where he taught for 45 years because he objected to the inane piece about him that appeared in the school paper. So the Headmaster could be the confidante. On the other hand, there is another character that Dunstan tells all about his life even though he has a reputation as a keeper of secrets. This person doesn't appear until the last third of the book but when you get there you will be intrigued.

This is the first book of the Deptford trilogy; the other books in the trilogy are The Manticore and World of Wonders. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jul 2, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
"A marvelously enigmatic novel, then, elegantly written and driven by irresistible narrative force."

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robertson Daviesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Godwin, GailIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Fifth Business ... Definition
Those roles which, being neither those of
Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain,
but were none the less 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.
- Tho. Overskou, Den Danske Skueplads
First words
My lifelong involvement with Mrs Dempster began at 5:58 o'clock p.m. on 27 December 1908, at which time I was ten years and seven months old.
" ... You despise almost everyone except Paul's mother. No wonder she seems like a saint to you; you have made her carry the affection you should have spread among fifty people. Do not look at me with that tragic face. You should thank me. At fifty years old you should be glad to know something of yourself. That horrid village and your hateful Scots family made you a moral monster. Well, it is not too late for you to enjoy a few years of almost normal humanity."
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Haiku summary
Wherein a small stone
acts as an antagonist
in a charming book

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141186151, Paperback)

The first novel in Davies's celebrated "Deptford Trilogy" introduces Ramsay, a man who returns from World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross who is destined to be caught in a no man's land where memory, history, and myth collide.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:15 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"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." -- Back cover.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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