Spellbinding like his creation Magnus Eisengrim, Robertson Davies is a wizard of the English language. Who says that Canadian literature is bland and unappealing? New York Times applauded Fifth Business – the first of the Deptford triptych – as "a marvelously enigmatic novel, elegantly written and driven by irresistible narrative force." How true this is. Dunstable Ramsay – later renamed Dunstan after St. Dunstan – may be a retired schoolteacher, but what an engaging narrator he is! Shaped by Davies’s colourful writing, Ramsay masterfully relays the story of his role as "fifth business," the unobtrusive yet vital character in life’s drama.
Fifth Business, told in the form of a letter to the schoolmaster, begins with a snowball that young Percy Boyd Staunton throws at Ramsay. The stone-in-a-snowball misses Ramsay but hits Mary Dempster, causing the premature birth of Paul Dempster. Paul grows up to be Magnus Eisengrim, a mysterious and graceful magician. Tormented by his guilt of avoiding the snowball, Ramsay makes Mary his personal saint and is weighed down by his conscience until Mary’s eventual death in an asylum. On the eve of becoming the lieutenant governor of Ontario, "Boy" Staunton is found dead in the Toronto harbour with the fateful stone in his mouth.
Though the adventures that Dunstan embarks on in Fifth Business are that of the spiritual nature, make no mistake: this is not a occult novel that attempts to lure one into a religion, but a magnificently told tale of maturation. It is a story of revenge, of redemption, of becoming. Told from the perspective of being nearly completed, the novel follows Ramsay in his search for balance in his life – and balance he does find when the grotesque yet intelligent Liesl seduces him.
With depth and breadth of knowledge in Jungian concepts, Robertson Davies draws us fathoms beneath the surface of the human personality. The audience is not left grasping for breath, but is enraptured by the rich dualism...
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