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Fifth Business Paperback – Jun 28 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Canada; 2nd edition (June 28 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143051385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143051381
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 240 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #50,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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The first book of Robertson Davies's Deptford Trilogy tells the story of three men destined to be crucial players in each others' lives. The story is, in fact, the memoir of Dunstan Ramsay, a long-time boarding-school teacher, set to retire. Written to the headmaster of the school, the memoir intends to disprove the common belief that Ramsay is nothing more than a senile old professor, "doddering into retirement with tears in his eyes and a drop hanging from his nose." The story includes two other main characters, the outcast and eventual circus performer Paul Dempster and socialite Boy Staunton, with his "too glossy perfection."

The story of Ramsay's life begins when he is 10 years old, living in a small Canadian town called Deptford. A snowball thrown by Boy Staunton, intended for Ramsay, hits the pregnant mother of Paul Dempster, forcing her into labour early. She gives birth to a premature and deformed Paul. Ramsay feels responsible for this, and thus begins his guilty friendship with Paul, as well as his grudging friendship with Boy. Eventually, Dunstan Ramsay goes off to fight in the First World War, where he earns a Victoria Cross. He later travels throughout Europe and Mexico to pursue his interest in saints and write several books about them. He even attempts to prove that Paul's mother, whom he had taken a liking to over the years, is in fact a saint. Paul and Boy keep crossing paths with Dunstan, for good and ill, for the rest of his life. This fascinating, absorbing classic of Canadian literature is punctuated with elements of the comic, the supernatural, and the magical (even touching on the occult), while the writing itself is always elegant and at times exquisite. --Mark Frutkin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


One of the splendid literary enterprises of this decade. -- Peter Prescott, Newsweek --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 13 2002
Format: Paperback
There are a thousand reviews on Amazon saying "this is the best book I've ever read", so they're easy to pass off as hyperbole, but do yourself a favor and read this book. This is great literature, and although I am pleased to find a lot of reviews here saying that it is required reading in many literature classes, this is a book that inspires more than academic analysis - approach it with a sense of wonder and you will be amply rewarded.
I first read "Fifth Business" around 1970, and I've been telling people for over thirty years that I've never read anything to compare to it. At the time everyone was touting "The French Lieutenant's Woman" for it's "magical realism", but that was a cold read compared to "Fifth Business." This book transports you. You will find it hard to leave the world of Dunstan Ramsey when you finish this book.
The rest of the "Deptford Trilogy" is very good (though I found "World of Wonders" far superior to "The Manticore"), but if Davies had never written another word after "Fifth Business" his literary reputation would have been assured.
After spending all those years claiming that this book is the best novel of the second half of the 20th centiry, I felt an obligation to pick it up again as the year 2000 rolled around, since it had been several years since I last read it. I was not disappointed - despite being so familiar with the book, I was unable to put it down, and read far into the night before finishing.
Do yourself a favor and visit the world of Dunstan Ramsey - those who don't are the poorer for it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Krichman on July 18 2002
Format: Paperback
Fifth Business, the first installment of the Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy, is without doubt the best novel that I had never heard of. Davies prose and narrative voice rival Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited in elegance, humor, and style. And his characters and plot development, so rich, absorbing, and at once triumphant and tragic, put this fine novel in the same class as Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
The term 'Fifth Business', as Davies describes, refers to the role in an opera, usually played by a man, which has no opposite of the other sex. While only a supporting character, he 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. In this novel, Dunstan Ramsay plays this role, and he is in maginificent form. Though he narrates the novel, and is intimately entwined in the lives of all its characters, he somehow manages to remain slightly in the background as a passive observer of others. It is through his eyes that we witness the rise of Boy Staunton, his childhood friend from the small Canadian town of Deptford. While Dunny goes off to the war where he is seriously wounded, and later becomes a boarding school master and expert on the history of saints, Boy makes his fortune in the sugar business and eventually pursues a career in politics. Dunny, whose soft-spoken charm, honesty, and self-reflection become clear through his narration, serves as an admirable foil to Boy, whose drive and ambition are unrestrained by a sense of morality, duty, or altruism.
But the novel is far more complex than a simple study of two contrasting characters. Davies' cast is rich and diverse, and their lives intertwine fluidly, though often in surprising ways.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bruggadung on Oct. 28 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As fresh today as it was when I first read it in high school some 34 years ago and, more importantly, it still speaks to those students to whom I teach it in the 21st Century classroom, not least because it is unashamedly Canadian in focus and it is a great introduction to Jungian psychology. It remains my favourite novel because, as with anyone's favourite piece of literature, it affects me most personally.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By wellred on June 29 2003
Format: Paperback
Merciful heavens, what a novel!! The implications of a thrown stone-loaded snowball is the basis of this book, and indeed an entire trilogy. From this simple premise comes one of the most profound and multi-layered stories that I have come across. Magically brilliant. Dunstan Ramsey is the narative voice of the book and is a nicely fleshed out character. Ramsey is moved by his unfounded guilt because of his part in the fateful snowball toss. His guilt and dedication is nicely played against the carelessness of Boy Stanton. A very thoughtful novel. Truly a great and important work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David Goodman on Oct. 4 2000
Format: Paperback
The best way to approach Fifth business is to read it in small installments. This is definitely not a read until sunrise book. This is a true Saga, leaving out plenty of unnecessary detail. It covers the life of one man, almost desperately trying to prove that he has lived a full and interesting life. As the reader, you are to judge this by paying attention to his bizarre but captivating hobbies in life. Most people don't want to read about dubious sex scenes, nor sinners and saints. Davies draws on our own feeling, we all have our own unique interests in life and find that relating to Ramsay is easy. The ending is not so much of a shocker as a pleasant conclusion to a story which nearing the finish has been dragged out somewhat. None the less what makes this book a great read is how it sets the scene for the next installment of the Deptford trilogy (The manticore) which is twice as wonderful, though pointless without reading fifth business. None the less there are great lessons of life to be learned, and a vaguely true generalisation of Canadians. A fair read, though a great trilogy. Three stars.
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