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Fifth Business (1970)

by Robertson Davies

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Deptford Trilogy (Book 1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,812723,446 (4.16)1 / 369
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.… (more)

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English (62)  Spanish (5)  Catalan (5)  All languages (72)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
A holy burden
swallowing guilt like a stone
bitter sanctity. ( )
  Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
One of the dangers of re-reading a book is that you spoil the connection you had with it the first time around.

I first read the Deptford Trilogy thirty-three years ago. I consumed all three books back to back. The details of the plots have long since slipped through the ever-widening mesh of my memory but I was left with a strongly favourable impression created by good writing and the concept of seeing the same village and events from so many perspectives over the course of the trilogy.

It seemed to me that now would be a good time to revisit the trilogy and see Deptford through older eyes.

I've listened to more than two hours of this ten-hour audiobook and I'm now abandoning the attempt. The book is too dry, the story too slow and told from too great an emotional distance for me to connect with it. I recognise that some of this comes from the slightly cumbersome structure of the book, which is written in the form of a novel-length letter written by a retired schoolmaster to the Headmaster of the school at which he worked for forty-five years, in which the schoolmaster tells his life story from childhood on. This structure seems to create a double distance between the story and the reader, the first being the "this is what I remember" monotonality of the storytelling and the second being the implied didactic motivation for writing the book.

I'm setting the book aside so I can spend time with books that give me greater pleasure.

Thirty-three years ago, I would have felt guilty about that. This is a piece of classic Canadian literature after all. Now, my reading is always accompanied by a sense that the clock is ticking and that there are so many great reading pleasures available to me that I have to use what time I have wisely.
1 vote MikeFinnFiction | May 16, 2020 |
A resounding work that was very well-written. The book is a literary study of a man in Canadian society and features Jungian archetypes as a prime section, and undercurrent, for the book. I was impressed with the style and poise and will definitely be finishing the series.

4 stars! ( )
  DanielSTJ | May 5, 2019 |
It has never taken me so long to read a book I wanted to be rid of quickly! The writing is beyond reproach, however the story did not grab me and the main protagonist was infuriatingly unlikable. I really wanted to like this one, but no. ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
An account of a man's life that, seen from the outside, appears banal, but is elevated beyond any such bore by casual association with greatness, by marvelous talent for clever observation phrased perfectly, and by the understanding that one whole human life, if recollected well, is a tremendously complex and impressive thing. Wonderful stuff. ( )
  mrgan | Oct 30, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
"A marvelously enigmatic novel, then, elegantly written and driven by irresistible narrative force."

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Davies, Robertsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
BascoveCover artistsecondary authorsome 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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Book description
Haiku summary
Wherein a small stone
acts as an antagonist
in a charming book

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