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The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business; The Manticore; World of Wonders Paperback – October 1, 1990
Intrusion: A Novel
A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives. Learn More
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This is the question that lies at the heart of Robertson Davies's elegant trilogy comprising Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders. Indeed, Staunton's death is the central event of each of the three novels, and Rashomon-style, each circles round to view it from a different perspective. In the first book, Fifth Business, Davies introduces us to Dunstan Ramsey and his "lifelong friend and enemy, Percy Boyd Staunton," both aged 10. It is a winter evening in the small Canadian village of Deptford, and Ramsey and Boy have quarreled. In a rage, Boy throws a snowball with a stone in it, misses his friend and hits the Baptist minister's pregnant wife by mistake. She becomes hysterical and later that night delivers her child prematurely, a baby with birth defects. Even worse, she loses her mind. The snowball, the stone, the deformed baby christened Paul Dempster--this is the secret guilt that will bind Ramsey and Staunton together through their long lives:
I was perfectly sure, you see, that the birth of Paul Dempster, so small, so feeble, and troublesome, was my fault. If I had not been so clever, so sly, so spiteful in hopping in front of the Dempsters just as Percy Boyd Staunton threw that snowball at me from behind, Mrs. Dempster would not have been struck. Did I never think that Percy was guilty? Indeed I did.Boy, however, "would fight, lie, do anything rather than admit" he feels guilty, too, and so the subject remains unresolved between them right up until the night Boy's body is found in his car, in a lake, with a stone in his mouth. The second novel, The Manticore, follows Staunton's son, David, through a course of Jungian therapy in Switzerland, while World of Wonders concentrates on Magnus Eisengrim, a renowned magician and hypnotist with ties to both Ramsey and Boy Staunton.
When it came to writing, three was Davies's favorite number. Before the Deptford books, he wrote The Salterton Trilogy (Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, A Mixture of Frailties), and after it came The Cornish Trilogy (The Rebel Angels, What's Bred in the Bone, The Lyre of Orpheus). Excellent as these and Davies's other novels are, The Deptford Trilogy is arguably the masterpiece for which he'll best be remembered, as the combination of magic, archetype, and good, old-fashioned human frailty at work in these novels is a world of wonders unto itself, and guarantees these three books a permanent place among the great books of our time. --Alix Wilber
Top Customer Reviews
The subject is the turbulent and often hilarious lives of three men whose hometown is the rural village of Deptford, Ontario. They are Dunstan Ramsay, a history teacher, hagiographer (somebody who studies saints and sainthood), and decorated World War I veteran; the arrogant but vulnerable Percy Boyd "Boy" Staunton, a wealthy confectionery businessman, politician, and Dunstan's lifelong friend; and the pitiable Paul Dempster, whose premature birth was precipitated by his mother's injury from being hit accidentally by a snowball thrown by Staunton at Ramsay on a fateful winter day in 1908. The event that provides the basis for the trilogy is Staunton's death sixty years later, when his Cadillac mysteriously plunges off a pier into a harbor.
The three novels form a complex story that is structured almost like a murder mystery but has much more psychological depth and detailed characterization and is more studious of the nature of consequences.Read more ›
I finished the Cornish trilogy, loved it, and moved into Deptford. I finished World of Wonders last night, and have some thoughts.
I enjoy each of Davies' novels as I read them, but their full impact seems to hit me several days after finishing them. After reading the Cornish trilogy, with it's baroque styles and encyclopedic references, Deptford seemed a little...thin. Almost minimalist in it's scope. ["Minimalist" is a relative term here--we are talking about Robertson Davies, after all.]
But now that I have finished World of Wonders, I find that I prefer its mystery, its sense of what is not said. The sense of myth that runs through the characters' lives. In a word, haunting.
The Cornish trilogy is a wonderful series of yarns. Highly entertaining, as is seems few books are. But Deptford forces the reader to do more work: to think, investigate, contemplate what has happened in the novels.
Both trilogies are stunning achievements, but I prefer doing investigative work rather than being entertained (although what an entertainment!).
Final thought: Unlike the overrated Umberto Eco, who writes fiction like an academic, Davies is able to create erudite, learned characters who are interesting people, rather than mouthpieces that demonstrate their author's wide field of knowledge. Davies' erudition serves the characters, the story and the reader. Eco's expositions only serve his ego.
Fifth Business is a marvelous book, and while it doesn't have quite the same mystery or horror of Carroll, it does have an excellent style, and there is indeed a twist or two along the way to keep most any reader sated. Basically the autobiography of Dunstable Ramsay, born around the turn of the century in the small Canadian town of Deptford, Fifth Business details not only Ramsay's life, but also the life of his oldest friend, Percy "Boy" Staunton. What makes this novel so remarkable is how realistic the portrayal is, without bogging down in pages of mundane description. Over the course of the novel, one's understanding for Dunstable grows, both in positive and negative turns, and by the end, he is as an old friend of one's own.
Based on some of the cover blurbs, I had expected a little more magic realism, or at least an edge of the fantastic, to this book, and while it may be there, it is consistently down-played. Normally I am not one to go in for fiction without at least a feeling of the extraordinary, but Davies writing style kept me glued to the page, reading longer into the night than I would ordinarily wish during the work week.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This guy creates the greatest and unusual characters to go with intelligent storytelling!Published 5 days ago by Sparky
Even after multiple readings it continues to fascinate and entertain. Davies was a Canadian treasure.Published 6 days ago by A. Close
A classic trilogy filled with psychological, historical, and philiosophical gems. Not to mention a ripping good mystery thriller.Published 2 months ago by Paul Preuss
I read all of Robertson Davies' novels years ago and have craved to re-read them. WHY are they not available for Kindle? Read morePublished 6 months ago by P. Blake
I've read all three trilogies, and wouldn't have bothered if I didn't think highly of Davies and enjoy his writing. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Poogy
This is the second book in the Depford Trilogy and it is just as good as the first. I purchased the audio version and the person picked to deliver the text fits the persona.Published 9 months ago by Barb B
So glad to have re read this after many years. Davies is a genius.Published 10 months ago by s pessin
A great piece of writing. The best is the first part describing the author's growing up in pre World War ! "Deptford", Ontario. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Philip G. Eidelberg