Fifth Business Paperback – Jun 28 2005
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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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
My mother gave this book to me as a Christmas gift last year with a written note informing me Robertson Davies was one of my grandfather's favourite authors. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Alexander Kelley
Loved this wonderful Canadian classic. Full of twists and turns and ethical conundrums. Please read it to find out why.Published 7 months ago
Was not hardcover like the description said. The reason why I bought this book was for the hardcover.
The book smells very bad.
Fifth Business is a great installment in the genre of magic realism with a twist of comedy and paradox. Read morePublished on April 12 2012 by Joe Public
I might LOVE the book now - though I doubt I'll return to it. But I read this book in the mid-90s when I was a young man in my 20s and I found the book to be rather long, slow. Read morePublished on Jan. 14 2012 by David Sabine
Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy is a strange, slightly magical trio of fictional biographies, all of which originate in the small Canadian town of Deptford. Read morePublished on April 30 2011 by E. A Solinas
It has been a few years since I have read Fifth Business along with the Manticore and World of Wonders and it remains the best trilogy I have ever read. Read morePublished on June 29 2010 by 1969
Just a short correction...title is 'Fifth Business', not 'The Fifth Business', and author is Robertson Davies, not M.G. Vassanji as Amazon has it on their best book site. Read morePublished on Jan. 5 2008 by dfra