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10 thoughts on “Fifth Business

  1. says:

    4.5 stars Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies organized according to the old style the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business Dunstan Ramsay was born in the small town of Deptford, Ontario In 1908, at the age of ten, he is unknowingly cast in the vital though never glorious role of Fifth Business due to an untimely event that will ultimately weigh on his conscience for the rest of his life This role of course is not a literal one Dunstan is not an actor in a play or opera, yet he is a person who seems to have an influence on the lives of another small cast of characters in his real life drama His feelings of guilt over this tragic occurrence will ultimately affect many of the decisions he later makes in his life in order to atone for what he considers to be his sin His story covers nearly forty years and is told in the form of a first person sort of memoir We as readers have to question whether his guilt is such that he should take on so much responsibility for his actions over the course of his life On the surface, this book seems to be about growing up in a small minded town, the effect of the horrors of World War I on a man s body and psyche, the marvel of magic, and an obsession with the saints It is about those things but Canadian author Robertson Davies brilliantly weaves all of these elements together into something that is so much than what we initially perceive The narrative and the point of view used allow us to glimpse just a bit of what is really happening here a little at a time While I enjoyed Dunstan s story throughout, I did not realize just how cleverly this was written until I neared the end The prose is crisp and clear and oftentimes with a bit of sarcastic wit Some thought that my known habit of reading a great deal had unseated my reason, and perhaps that dreadful disease brain fever, supposed to attack students, was not far off One or two friends suggested to my father that immediate removal from school, and a year or two of hard work on a farm, might cure me The characters are well drawn and memorable, all playing their assigned roles quite perfectly in retrospect I am finding it difficult to provide an overview of this novel, but it is most definitely one for those that crave something literary, creative, and meaningful Choose it at a time when you want to exercise your brain not that it is difficult to read by any means, but in order to get the most out of it you will want to clearly focus on all that it has to offer It certainly made me question to what extent our actions or omissions affect the lives of others and at what point can we say that we have paid our debt so to speak Or is the debt ever truly repaid This is my first Robertson Davies book and I will be adding the next in the trilogy and seeing what else I have missed by yet another gifted author This is one of the cruelties of the theatre of life we all think of ourselves as stars and rarely recognize it when we are indeed mere supporting characters or even supernumeraries

  2. says:

    I just could not help but feel sorry for poor candid little kalliope, the one who likes to invoke her eponymous muse, as if that were to help her in her reading and review writing Lately little spirally kalliope has been reading so many books that deal with saints and other holy figures that she was beginning to question her own mythological essence There was Fra Angelico La Virgen de la Humildad, which she enjoyed, and led by the mysteries of this book she followed the saving path sowed by Millard Meiss and continued with Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death The Arts, Religion and Society in the Mid Fourteenth Century But that was not enough She was obviously ensnared by the spiritual images of the spiritual beings, because she continued with the holiest of holies, and unfolded the panels of a Sienese treasure with Duccio, the Maesta.But then, realizing that she was probably running into a self delusion, and that following all those saints may have been the work of the devil and that what seemed a process of sanctification was probably a disguised temptation of the most abject evil, she decided to pick up a very different kind of book a twentieth century novel written by a well established Canadian Just for a break.Fifth business No clue what that title promised And it started well Silly spirally kalliope felt as she had unraveled her spiral and distanced herself several universes from holy land But no, she was in for a shock, for Fifth business, is not just about the fifth character in an opera who is not there really to sing but to move the plot along This novel is also about saints.Silly kalliope felt lost and could see that her Muse was abandoning her and that she was on her way to become Saint Kalliope of the holy Spiral and that she would be joining Saint Ursula and her thousand saints Irretrievably But then there came a gasp of fresh air, and the mythological world came back Gyges and King Candaules, by now familiar characters who live in various novels She recently encountered this odd couple trio in Powell s eleventh volume of his Dance, in Temporary Kings But before the Candaules episode was also included in Ondatjee s The English Patient, which mentions that the story originates in Herodotus And Th ophile Gautier also had his go at it Le Roi Candaule.So may be the Candaules saga will help silly candid kalliope find her literary path again For reading is all about myths, whether these are saintly or pagan.

  3. says:

    The high school friend who managed somehow to hitch me with my lifelong soulmate and wife from a distance of thousands of miles away, many, many years ago, was FIFTH BUSINESS Whuzzat, you ask Well, to find that out you ll have to read the book But it s some sort of really Strange Magic, as ELO sang at the time I met my wife in the SeventiesDavies trilogy is Magic too This is the first book All three together make up a long and intriguing journey through the magically murky labyrinths of the human mind.Life s not easy, as we all know But here it s magical and parochial, small town Ontario was never so strangely and savagely serendipitous BEFORE Boy Staunton threw that accursed Snowball And suddenly it s a World of Good and Evil Wonders, as if suddenly blanketed in a new two foot sparkling carpet of Lake Effect snow, with ironic icicles hanging by the wall That s where this novel starts You step into medias res, like in a classical epic only, if you re the impressionable kind I was, it seems to open up much like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe presented Narnia in a shimmering Ice Age of the human spirit.And Fifth Business is a progressively complicated, murky and allusive affair, as it morphs into the carnival of capricious capers that lurks in the two companion novels of this, the Deptford Trilogy, all set off aptly by the plodding, dourly academic main character Davies himself Dunstan.I could have met Robertson Davies back in those early days of my life, had my high school marks permitted me to attend the U of T English Faculty You d see him most days of the week, they used to say, on the leafy campus with his long white beard and long white hair, like some Old Testament prophet, decked out in a swanky beret, the nattiest tweeds and twirling an ivory cane But he was a highly respected teacher, and a DYNAMITE writer And a real old fashioned CHARACTER This book s got it all magic, mystery, and merry Bohemian and Bay Street Mayhem And you know, if you trust in your lucky stars, even the WORST times in your life like Staunton s fateful snowball toss was for some can end up producing very good things for you.Like the serendipitous Fifth Business that long ago introduced me to the girl that was to become my wife And in a FLASH, the Evil in my life was transformed into Good.It s like, if that unstable mixture of frailties that is our own uneven lives HADN T happened the exact way it did, we would never have been as happy as we turned out to be in the end TRULY Ex Machina, as they said in olden times.Though as Socrates says in Plato s Eurythro, we all end up paying a penalty to each other for EACH misdeed And if there is evil intent in an act of Fifth Business, that evil will be mitigated And the good are saved harmless.Read the book to find out For as the old folks used to say in the good old days, back when life was simple, IT ALL COMES OUT IN THE WASHFIVE of the FINEST STARS for this Magnificent Read.

  4. says:

    4.5 starsRobertson Davies is one of my literary heroes At a time in my youth when I had been engulfed with Canadian Literature that was, in my humble opinion at the time at least, depressing, uninteresting, and decidedly parochial, here was a man who wrote stories with verve, humour, erudition and a view to the wider world _Fifth Business_ is the first book of Davies Deptford trilogy, a series of books that centre around people from the fictional small town of Deptford, Ontario Sounds parochial already, doesn t it But wait, there s The main character, and narrator, of this tale is Dunstan Ramsay, a man who seems to have been destined to exist on the periphery of the life he is now looking back on Sharp tongued and intelligent, Ramsay has let himself fall into the role of school teacher at an all boy s private school, unencumbered not only by a wife and children, but also by any truly close friends The closest he has is Percy Boyd Boy Staunton, the golden boy of Deptford and frenemy of his youth Boy is everything Ramsay is not outgoing, active, popular and rich Boy soon makes his mark in the wider world, parlaying the small fortune of his grasping father into the foundations of a business empire that certainly does nothing to lessen Boy s innate pride and narcissism Aside from their origins in a small Ontario town as part of the same generation, the two boys share something else, a link to the tragedy that occurred in the life of Mrs Mary Dempster On a fateful winter day, when Boy s pride is goaded on by the shrewd antagonism of Ramsay, the then pregnant Mrs Dempster becomes the victim of a snowball hurled by Boy and meant for Ramsay which had a stone at its heart This blow not only precipitates the early delivery of her son Paul, but also leads to a loss of cognitive functions that makes her, in the words of the people of Deptford, simple.Forever keeping the facts secret, Ramsay is wracked by guilt over this event for the rest of his life despite the fact that his was certainly a sin of omission when compared to Boy s culpability It in fact becomes the shaping catalyst for his life and in large part determines the man he is to become Ramsay takes upon himself the care of Mrs Dempster officially at the urging of his mother, who helped to deliver the woman s son, but ultimately at the prodding of his own conscience and she becomes for him a figure of signal importance For Ramsay is convinced that there is something special about Mary Dempster, in fact he is certain that she is a saint This is not only the result of his guilt, but due to the fact that Ramsay is certain that he has personally witnessed three miracles performed by her one the resurrection of his apparently dead older brother Ramsay becomes obsessed with saints and saintliness and his life s work, his true passion, the study of these enigmatic figures in human history He is not a particularly religious man, but he is not incredulous of the validity of religious experience either This is where Davies is able to bring in one of his own favourite obsessions Jungian archetypes and the mythical significance of history The lens through which Ramsay sees the world is coloured by this interpretation and it is a fascinating one that informs all of Davies other books.Dunstan Ramsay is an excellent narrator and his voice is pitch perfect He seems to contain the perfect balance of incisive observation with a somewhat deprecating self awareness though of course we probably shouldn t take everything he says as gospel Through Ramsay s eyes we view the petty concerns and grotesqueries of small town life, things that, while petty or perhaps because they are petty , are than powerful enough to destroy a human life we share in some of the horrors of the First World War as well as the ennobling elements of life that can overcome such things and we witness the ways in which, sometimes unbeknownst to us, our lives are intertwined with those of everyone we meet, no matter how disconnected and solitary we think we are._Fifth Business_ isn t my favourite book by Davies, but it s a very good one and is an excellent introduction to the kind of writing you ll experience if you choose to try him out Not only was Davies a learned man, able to convey his learning in his books without sounding like a school teacher or a man with a mission to convert even though he was, perhaps, both things , but he was also a very accomplished writer I know flattery when I hear it but I do not often hear it Further, there is good flattery and bad this was from the best cask And what sort of woman was this who knew so odd a word as hagiographer in a language not her own Nobody who was not a Bollandist had ever called me that before, yet it was a title I would not have exchanged to be called Lord of the Isles Delightful prose I must know of this.Delightful prose indeed Davies novels seem to flow effortlessly, partly due to the charming and fluid voice he attains in them, and partly, I think, through his clever weaving of myth and symbol throughout what is, on the surface, a rather mundane plot Ramsay s life, especially in his eventually acknowledged role of Fifth Business , is not one that is full of monumental events or unexpected novelty, but it is a human life and one which Davies puts into the greater context not only of the lives that all of us lead, but of the mythic symbols and higher meanings that we look to in order to find greater significance in what we do and who we are Also posted at Shelf Inflicted

  5. says:

    Canada behind the glossFor me Robertson Davies is Canada its gentleness and its snobbery its reserve and its smugness its inherent democratic attitudes and its bourgeois provincialism its multicultural diversity and subtle ethnic prejudices It is the US without the fanaticism and England without inherited nobility It is also much than either Davies ability to describe Canada s uniqueness is unparalleled and itself unique Fifth Business is a sort of representative history of the country from 1910 to 1950 from the point of view of the Ontario elite, roughly the equivalent class of the New York nouveau rich at the turn of the 20th century Davies ability to sense the peculiar s and foibles of this now declining culture is remarkable Few writing in the English language can beat Davies prose He is as smooth as John Banville and as captivating as Louis Auchincloss.

  6. says:

    Ramsay was born in 1898 in Deptford, Ontario When he was 10, while running away from his friend, a snow ball meant for him hit Mrs Dampster instead of him Mrs Dampster, who was pregnant at that time, immediately went into labour and lets say she was never same again She became what people of Deptford called simple This very event weighed heavily on Ramsay s conscience for the rest of his life Whatever he did, he always returned to this very moment In fact many of his decision were solely taken rejected because of this incident.This is a hard book to describe One can say it s Ramsay s story but once you start reading it you will find that it is so much For example take his relationship with Mrs Dampster and how highly he think of her Whereas his mother think that him spending time with that simple lady is not good for her son But Ramsay knows why she has became simple and he blames himself for it So spending time with her and taking care of her is atonement for his sins There was a lot of struggle for a loving mother she was also a kind woman to understand her son and Mrs Dampster Then later on it s his relationship with his friend Staunton that take precedence.One of the thing that stand about Ramsay s is that he is not critical He has laid bare himself in the letter Confessing his lies, insecurities, remorse but he is never critical He never judged He just tells the reader how certain people are and left it for reader to put them in black, white, and gray It is easy to discard it as Ramsay s memoir the whole story is told in a letter , but the author has beautifully intertwined Ramsay s life with contempt, religion, guilt, and spirituality that it gives reader a lot to ponder upon The book has beautiful prose Simple yet captivating and perhaps it is what played a big part in what this book is Highly recommended if you like to read between the lines.

  7. says:

    As I have grown older my bias the oddly recurrent themes of history, which are also the themes of myth has asserted itself, and why not Robertson Davies, Fifth Business Robertson Davies is one of those authors who has constantly been a peripheral artist I ve seen his books, corner of my eye, at bookstores used and new but never focused Never stayed Never picked one up Recently I asked a couple friends to recommend some bigger books or series that they really liked A friend of mine, who is an author and shares many similar tastes Patrick O Brian and John le Carr , etc recommend the Deptford Trilogy by Davies So, I picked it up Gobsmacked Ach mein Gott This book is good It reminded me of an intellectualized version of John Irving later I discovered Irving LOVED LOVES Davies mixed with a bit of John Fowles He is a master of time, place, and character AND he is also one of those authors whose prose is full of little quotable bon mots or philosophical epigrams And while I readily admit that these are a bit like sugar sprinkles for me they work and their is a reason I adore them Anyway, the book carried a great deal of emotional resonance with me Enough so that I m jamming a copy I bought for my wife to read she is a beast on books, so I bought her a mass market version for her pleasure and sacrificeshe doesn t get the hardcover one I have I am excited to spend time with these characters in books two The Manticore and book three World of Wonders I ll return and report as I finish.

  8. says:

    I can not stand this book and don t understand why people seem to rave about it.I like the concept that a character s life is not special, in itself, but how that character influences other character s lives gives the first character meaning, a bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet but the book itself is just Words on paper I did not care at all about any of the characters I found the main character to be boring, flat, uninteresting, and whinny As the book is told in first person, I found being in his head to be as enjoyable as having teeth pulled He seriously spends his whole life obsessing about this one incident that happens at the beginning of the book, and indeed the book ends with him talking about that incident Honestly, let it go I read the whole thing back in school, because I had to and I recently picked it up again, now that I m older, to see if I missed the point the first time around It remains as pointless and pathetic as it did when I first read it One read is enough My personal opinion and harsh criticism aside and looking at the literature itself, I still don t see why people praise this book so highly It s mediocre at best and not worth than an average rating There s nothing stellar or exceptional going on here.

  9. says:

    Because I loved, loved this book, I feel I must steal some precious seconds to write about it, before my memory of fades too much Not that it could ever escape completely, because as I said I loved this book I didn t know much about Davies, only that he was a famous Canadian author, and I bought this book used thinking that I should be exploring my Canadian heritage And I was totally wowed by the book It is the story of Dunston Ramsey, or rather, a story told by Dunston Ramsey Dunston comes to realize over the course of the novel that he has lived his life as a Fifth Business a term, which derives from the opera, meaning to a supporting character , who, while he has no opposite of the other sex being neither the hero nor heroine, villain nor rival , and 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 This is the role Dunston plays in his life, and the role he plays in the novel For while Dunston is a compelling narrator, and a kind, honest and self knowing man, his part in the story and, perhaps, in life is to tie together two disparate men, both of whom, like Dunston, got their start in the small town of Deptford, Ontario One man is Percy Boyd Staunton, who becomes a famous business man an almost Gatsby esque type The other is Paul Dempster, who runs away from home, joins the circus, and reappears as a famous magician The two are linked through Paul s mother, a tragic figure whose life has taken on an almost religious significance for Dunston.I don t even know if I can explain why I loved this book so much It was a well told story about compelling characters, and was well crafted, too both in the way the plot worked and in the writing Most of all, I loved it because it was one of those books that you start reading, and you just sink into it s world I felt like I knew Deptford, and Dunston, and all the peripheral characters, too I was so interested in the people in the book, that the plot sort of caught me by surprise at the end as did the fact that the end was near a real change from, say Fahrenheit 451, where I was counting down the pages It was like reading a comfort read but for the very first time And best of all, Fifth Business is the first book in a trilogy I hope that I like the other two as much as this one And I secretly hope to learn as the last few sentences sort of hinted at that at the end of his life Dunston managed to become the hero of his own story Tangent time The whole Canada thing is sort of weird for me, in the following sense Canada, like America, is a nation of immigrants unless you happen to be a Native American er, Canadian First People American Canadian Indian My dad, and his ancestors going back are were Canadian In fact, I once participated in a smug little presentation about stereotypes in a college class about immigration in the geography department with a whole guess which one of us is a first generation American bit And I think that some of my experiences are colored by that the way I think about World War One, was, for sure, shaped by the fact that my great grandfather was a veteran I certainly have a fondness in my heart for the Canadian anthem, poutine and other things Canadian However, being Canadian isn t really a heritage, like being Irish or Italian or what have you, right I mean, I am as American as apple pie, deep down The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday majored in American history would never, ever leave the country no matter how much I hated the administration and it s politics And I can t say that my the fact that my dad was born in Quebec rather than Massachusetts has shaped me too deeply I mean I didn t say that my experiences were coloured or anything Hmmm I will have to ponder on that , probably someplace other than a poor little book blog entry on Robertson Davies Not to suggest that the book is simple, or not of literary merit It s just that there are some books that when I read them are so comforting and easy and engrossing, and this book was like that.

  10. says:

    Fifth Business is a Really Good Book I can t say enough about it But on the other hand I could easily say too much I hate to say what kind of book it is, since I didn t find that out until the end and don t want to spoil it for others I can say read the publisher s blurb, though, which seems to me to have little enough to do with the novel This is the Best Kind of Book, that s what I think that, among other things, it s a bildungsroman, if that encompasses the development of the main character and his discovery of wisdom across his whole lifetime That could be what makes this book so wonderful A strategy of the author is to have the characters from whom the protagonist receives wisdom speak in serial soliloquies each taking center stage in turn And it works Wikipedia points out that this is also an epistolary novel, unfolding as a letter to his former boss the headmaster in protest of the dismissive and disrespectful tone of his retirement bio But that didn t bother me I mostly forgot about its being the contents of a long letter.This book could be considered a historical novel since the author comes of age at the time of the Great War He s a contemporary of my grandparents, then, and for readers in middle adulthood, the age of your great grandparents Yet the book has a very contemporary feel.It s officially a Canadian novel, yet I felt at home with it.A good bit of the subject matter has to do with Christianity, but there s no anti Judaism Why that s so would make for an interesting discussion There is no religiosity meaning affectation either.About this fifth business business that s supposed to mean a particular character who is not the hero, or the villain, or either of the other main roles, yet without him, nothing would happen He s the one who activates the potential of the other characters and sets the plot in motion That s what the author focused on In real life, though, I guess we aren t so much limited to one role as privileged to play them all, eventually.For those who do audiobooks, the narrator, Marc Vietor, is perfection personified.Here s to a Great Book I plan to get to the other books in the trilogy, and I figured out I could get to reread the Cornish Trilogy if I do the audios Happiness.

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Fifth Business download Fifth Business, read online Fifth Business, kindle ebook Fifth Business, Fifth Business 504df5ef52b0 Ramsay Is A Man Twice Born, A Man Who Has Returned From The Hell Of The Battle Grave At Passchendaele In World War I Decorated With The Victoria Cross And Destined To Be Caught In A No Man S Land Where Memory, History, And Myth Collide As Ramsay Tells His Story, It Begins To Seem That From Boyhood, He Has Exerted A Perhaps Mystical, Perhaps Pernicious, Influence On Those Around Him His Apparently Innocent Involvement In Such Innocuous Events As The Throwing Of A Snowball Or The Teaching Of Card Tricks To A Small Boy In The End Prove Neither Innocent Nor Innocuous Fifth Business Stands Alone As A Remarkable Story Told By A Rational Man Who Discovers That The Marvelous Is Only Another Aspect Of The Real