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on November 3, 2000
Let me tell you, Davies wrote one helluva book here, and I absolutely adore Murther and Walking Spirits. It's very rooted in Eastern philosophy and is in many ways opposed to the western views on death. Westerners tend to view death as a failure or an embarassment and not as the natural course of things, like the Easterners do. This novel parodies the insincere, uncomprehending views on death that many of us hold. Davies also brings things into perspective on a larger scale by tracing Gilmartin's (the dead protagonist) ancestors, from his great-great-great grandparents up to his parents through a film festival of sorts, helping his spirit to realize what death, life, and the 'hero-struggle' really means in the long run, or the never-ending now. If anyone found this book underwhelming, it may be because Davies did not explain the character's development for the reader in clear terms, assuming perhaps they were bright enough to catch it on their own. It takes more than a little bit of thinking to get this book, and I've been doing a lot of that since I finished reading it. Davies has taught me a lot, and I highly recommend his fictions to any and everyone.
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on June 19, 2001
An interesting book, I really enjoyed it. Who else but R. Davies could kill off his main character in the first sentence, and then chronicle the experiences of the disembodied ghost for over three and a half hundred pages... and yet keep it increasingly interesting? He does it. Incidentally, Davies believed that physical death would not spell the annihilation of the animating spirit of man (a belief to which I am in full agreement). He once speculated about his own afterlife by saying: "I haven't any notion of what I might be or whether I'll be capable of recognizing what I've been, or perhaps even what I am, but I expect that I shall be something." Murther is a really interesting fictional account of what that "something" might be like.
The moment that Connor Gilmartin is struck dead in his own bedroom by his wife's lover, he finds that he is still alive! Perhaps even more alive than he has ever been; he is in a state that the opening chapter calls "roughly translated". He's a ghost; a walking spirit. This new state is fraught with all manner of possibilities and limitations. For one thing, his powers of awareness and observation are heightened, but he is unable to communicate with any of the living, no matter how he jumps up and down or shouts in their ear. And for that typically Robertsonian twist, the great author borrows an idea from the Bhagavad Gita which states that after death one maintains a connection with what one was thinking about at the moment of death. (It behoved a man to be concerned with what he was thinking of as he died)! So... what was Connor Gilmartin thinking of at that moment? Well, he was processing the fact that he had just caught his wife involved with a man (a co-worker) whom he particularly despised for many reasons, and secondly, he was thinking of a particular work-related problem concerning an upcoming Film Festival in Toronto to which this man (his murderer) was vying with him for position as lead writer. Now Connor is dead, aware of his wife's duplicity in covering up the murder but unable to vindicate himself in any way, and furthermore he is bound inextricably to his own murderer who attends the Film Festval as lead writer in his place. In a surreal twist, at the Film Festival, what Connor views on the screen is not what the others are seeing, but rather it is a documentary of his own ancestry... (one's life flashes before one's eyes??) He is seeing something wholly personal. After the festival he is instantly translated back to see how his wife is winding up her affairs... he sees that she has actually found a way to profit from his untimely demise. This story was great right to the end... with the disclaimer that in my opinion it is important to remember it as a fanciful rather than a literal view of what happens after your last breath. He raises a lot of interesting things to think about though. Not the best example of Davies' work, but still worthy of four and a half stars to the best Canadian writer ever.
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on July 22, 2000
"Murther and Walking Spirits" is not part of any Davies trilogy, so Davies had one book to develop some interesting chracters, not an easy task. I think Davies did a great job in this book of presenting the struggle of more than the ghost, but of the every day person through the flashbacks/films. The ending is just what one would expect from Davies and the plot follows a simple but effective model. It starts in the real world, then moves to the "film festival", then back to the real world. The plot is like a circle, much like life. There is also plenty of wit and charm in this book just like anything Davies writes.

The down side to this book is that from the start you know the major chracter is dead, so there's no hope for him. However, some how Davies manages to show that although he is dead, he isn't without hope. The "films" he watches in the book just help him realize that he's a link in a very important chain that is his family. The hope comes from the fact that he knows he lived his life the best way he could, like all his relatives in the "films."

Character development could had been better, but a writer can only do so much in one novel. Davies was a bit too ambitious introducing all the characters he did in such a small book. However, the characters are still interesting none the less. This novel is a entertaining read and it makes you think at times. I recommend this book to anyone who read anything else by Davies and liked it, or just to someone who wants something interesting to read.
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This book was a pleasure to read. Though not a favourite of mine, it is more tender in a way than any of Davies' novels. It is slower than some of his earlier work and deals more intimately and thoroughly with the family history of the (ghost-)narrator. It may seem odd to say so but it's as if Davies is reviewing his own life, or aspects of it. A recommended read to the old man's fans.
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on November 12, 2004
My quick advice: if you love Davies and you've read absolutely everything else, nothing I say will stop you.

If you love Davies and there's something else you haven't read, go read it before this one.

If you haven't read Davies, please, please don't start here because this is awful and just not indicative of what a great writer he is.

Davies was clearly touched by a bit of nostalgia, did some digging into his family tree and then decided to build a long boring story around it. The book is deceptive because it starts out as a murder and you expect to witness the ghost inflict revenge in some cunning fashion. No such excitement. Try two hundred years of immigrant movements disguised as one of those excruciating never ending black and white marathon film festivals. If this makes no sense the book probably won't either.
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on March 1, 2014
This is my first Robertson Davies' novel; certainly not my last.

"Murther and Walking Spirits" grabbed me from the beginning. After being bludgeoned
by his wife's lover, the narrator in ghostly form wanders through time and space visiting
6-generations of his ancestors. The book is chockfull of historical insights, and interesting
trivia. E.g., information about pots de chambre, jordans, and "welsh hats." While the
trivia changes with each generation, the themes remain constant.

"[A]nything pursued beyond a reasonable point, turns into its opposite," and the better path to
happiness is accepting life on it's own terms. The book is lively, well-written, wry, and consoled
this reader with the thought that his personal issues have been shared by mankind through the
ages.
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on August 7, 2015
He's a skilled writer. The book club agreed that we liked the start and the end, but we slogged through the middle section (especially about Welsh economics 2 centuries ago.)

Book arrived very promptly and in better condition than I expected
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on May 18, 1998
Terrific premise, technically excellent writing, an occasional boring section, difficult structure. I realize even excellent authors falter--but this plodding story left me with a tired memory of a Davies' book, and I'm sure it's unfortunate that this is my first Davies book, since with no other reference, I'll probably always balk at reaching for his better-received works.
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on September 12, 2005
This book is not intellectually demanding, but for what it is, is light, pleasant reading. It gives one person's view of Canadian history from 1776 to the present, weaving the dead (but participating) protagonist's forbears into a plot laced with sympathy and occasionally wry (Canadian?) humor. I found it a rewarding read, and don't hesitate recommending it to others with an interest in history and Europe's contribution to modern-day North America.
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on February 11, 1998
In this rather unevenly crafted novel, Davies has some clever ideas and interesting stories - along with the ever present Davies humor - but there are long sections of the book that 'drag' and fail to hold the reader's interest. My impression of this book is that Davies came up with a clever format and some intriguing ideas, but did not successfully bring these to fruition. Thus the rating of 5. Davies has better things to offer in his trilogies.
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