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The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders (The Deptford Trilogy #1-3)

4.34 of 5 stars 4.34  ·  rating details  ·  5,318 ratings  ·  283 reviews
Who killed Boy Staunton?

Around this central mystery is woven a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived trilogy of novels. Luring the reader down labyrinthine tunnels of myth, history, and magic, The Deptford Trilogy provides an exhilarating antidote to a world from where "the fear and dread and splendour of wonder have been banished."

Paperback, 874 pages
Published October 1st 1983 by Penguin (first published 1977)
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Anne of Green Gables by L.M. MontgomeryThe Shipping News by Annie ProulxAlias Grace by Margaret AtwoodThe Blind Assassin by Margaret AtwoodThe Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies
Oh, Canada!
5th out of 539 books — 214 voters
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27th out of 593 books — 428 voters

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Community Reviews

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How do I even begin this? I spent about two weeks reading this and that's a lot of time for people to be asking: "so what is it about?"
It's usually non-readers who ask such questions because readers know better than to ask what a 800 page book is about. But I thought about it and decided that it was mostly about subjectivity of experience. Not that it made sense to anyone who asked.

It was three books and each one of them a different kind of wonderful. It all starts in a small village of Deptford
After reading ''A Moralist Possessed by Humor': A Conversation With Robertson Davies" in the February 5, 1995 edition of the New York Times Book Review, I was intrigued by this man of mirth--a literary unknown to me--to give his books a try.

If I recall correctly, the only book available at the library that day was "Fifth Business" the first in this Deptford Trilogy. As is my habit, I cracked the spine open and took in the first page, to see if the style and content piqued my interest.

Needless t
Apr 21, 2008 ES rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Aspiring carnies, german castle owners
Read most of this book under the shadow of Cortez's Cathedral in Mexico sitting by a pool and smoking really bad pot.

Anyways, somebody I barely know suggested it. I'm glad he got me through a tough time. Took my mind to another place when it was in another place to begin with.

Something quaint and imaginative about the way he writes, like a master storyteller with no other agenda than the story at hand.

Aug 28, 2007 Ben rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: some humans, but not all

This is a good book. It doesn't belong to my favorite class of artistic works, which I think of as the "Fire and Forked Lightning" variety. But it's quite good.

Roberston Davies tells his tale in a slightly detached, leisurely pace that I'm tempted to attribute to his being from Canada. The story certainly doesn't hit you like a hollywood movie plot ride. It's thoughtful and takes it's time, but it's a good story -- basically the entire story of one man's life, with s
Mr Davies is the Magus, the Magician. I'm sure this must be at least the third time that I've read Fifth Business, and it never palls. He has such an ease and breadth of narration, such elegance and gentle irony. You relax into this kind of authoritative voice, luxuriate in its reassuring comfort. And all the while the magic spell silently twists into position, so that you swallow the most unlikely of coincidences, the slightly one-sided female figures, the rather too obvious a contrast between ...more
Lorenzo Berardi

From the snapshots you can find online, Robertson Davies looked like Charles Darwin with a touch of Santa Claus.

The Canadian author had a long white forked beard that was strikingly demode in the 1970s when he delivered the three books of this excellent Deptford Trilogy.
And yet, don't be fooled by the first appearances. You better look more carefully at the photos of Mr Davies. If you do that, you will perceive genuine wit and an eager inquisitiveness in his eyes as well as the intimidating ir
Lari Don
A wonderful trilogy, by an incredible writer. Each of the three novels looks back on a man’s life. The first, Fifth Business, is a letter from a school teacher to his old headmaster, attempting to show that his life was much more than anyone ever saw at school, and it touches on saints, war, madness and artificial legs.
The second book, The Manticore, is notes from the Jungian analysis of a wealthy Canadian lawyer, touching on archetypes, alcoholism, first love and death-masks.
The third, World o
Robertson Davies was a big fan of Jungian psychology, so if you enjoy archetypes in literature this will be a true character identification feast. How each narrator perceives the world around them plays also a big part in solving the Mysterious Death that drives the plot, so you get to play the shrink-detective.

The Best:

* The dialogue. Except when Magnus rambles, where it gets a bit stiff.
* The female characters (except for Leola Cruikshanks and Doctor Jo) and the fact the sexiest woman in the
The first thing that came to my mind when I finished this books was "thank God that's over with"

I really enjoyed this book when I started it, but around 1/2 to 3/4 of the way I just wanted it to end, for me that's normally a bad sign because when I love a book I'm almost depressed to finish it.

The book definitely has some clever aspects to it which is easily played upon by Roberston Davies the narration is almost a triptych view of the main characters, But it's heavily based around character sub
Kristen Olsson
May 15, 2007 Kristen Olsson rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Sam
Shelves: old-favorites
Whenever I mention this book the very few who recognize it ask me if I am Canadian.
No, I am not Canadian.

This book skirts a very fine line between the entirely possible and the gothically surreal. Told in trilogy form the story sprawls in the best possible way. The book is worth reading simply to gain the aquaintance of the narrating character. (I'm not sure I have crushed so hard on a literary figure since Schmendrick the Magician.)
His views and musings are so fresh and well put that I, heaven
I am forever indebted to my friend Donna Durham (Donna, where are you now?) for introducing me to Robertson Davies and The Deptford Trilogy. Some have described these books as examples of magical realism; well, yes, sort of, as written by a Canadian. The trilogy consists of three books: Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders. The books each tell the same story from the point of view of a different character and center around the murder of Percy "Boy" Staunton.

Fifth Business, my fav
Philip Jackson
As the title implies, this book is actually three novels, Fifth Business, The Manticore and World of Wonders. Although the books differ from each other, they are all linked by the trilogy's central premise. How are we accountable for our actions, however trivial, and how far reaching are the consequences of the decisions we make?
Two boys are snowball fighting in a small Canadian town at the turn of the century. One throws a snowball which contains a stone, and misses its target, hitting the past
Just recalled this author and the best of his trilogies. Read the review...the books are elegant, cleverly funny, inventive, never predicable...great reads! I would love to read and discuss with you!!

I don't read; I re-read. The first time I read a book it's an audition. And the finest pleasure offered by this habit is to read a familiar, beloved work and find that it's better than you thought. I was traveling this last while, and so reread The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies for perhaps the fifth or sixth time. I'd first read it out of order, and that jostling affected all later readings. This time I took it in as a single novel in three parts, and it was much more ambitious and meanin ...more
Cheryl Klein
I picked up a battered mass market paperback copy of FIFTH BUSINESS off the street in May, on the simple principle that I had heard good things about it and it was free, and stuck it in my bag as lightweight (size wise) reading for a trip to Arizona in June. These were both excellent spur of the moment decisions -- the very kind of tiny choices that Davies writes about here as influencing our whole lives.

If Boy Staunton hadn't thrown the stone...
If Dunstan Ramsey hadn't ducked...
If Mrs. Dempster
I reviewed each of the three books in this trilogy as I finished them, but I figured I'd review the series as a whole as well.

I was not looking forward to reading Fifth Business much at all. And, sad to say, it was in large part due to the fact that I hated the first cover I saw of it so much. It's a stupid reason, I know.

Anyway, almost as soon as I opened the thing up, I was competely hooked. Davies has such a way with words. It's not an action-packed book by any stretch of the imagination. It
I guess I was at something of a low point when this book called to me from my shelves. My copy looked awful, bent and blackened, and it was only on a whim that I, a month or so earlier, decided to relieve my parents shelves of it where it had stood for 10years with little hope of being read again.

That my current state should make me call for the Deptford Trilogy made perfect sense. I had read all of Robertson-Davies novels during a 2 year period about a decade or so ago. Murther and walking spi
Wonderful trilogy - my favorite of Davies trilogies...


"Who killed Boy Staunton?"

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
A wonderful trilogy.
"Fifth Business" is another delightful Davies story. This one follows the life of Dunstan Ramsay as he tells his story. Small events of no apparant importance come back in large, important ways.
I enjoyed "The Manticore", which is told from David Staunton’s point of view. It has some overlap with Fifth Business but David’s point of view and makes them complete. David tries to come to terms with his relationship with his father through therapy. Some of the same characters come
I adore this book. It's about a thousand pages and I was grateful for every one of them, because I never wanted it to end. The characters became to me like people I truly knew, and they are written with such adeptness and acumen that I was half-convinced they were all real and existed somewhere. The magic of this book lasts a long time after the last page has turned.

This book follows four characters over the course of their lives. It is essentially a character sketch, founded on conversations an
Judith Shadford
This was a second read, part of checking to see how old favorites stand up after the rigors of RWW and "close reading". I am happy to announce that Robertson Davies stands up very well indeed. His ability to write an entire book within the POV of a single narrator and carry it off--is astonishing. Fifth Business, the first of the trilogy, is mesmerizing, which, given the character is in character. The second, The Manticore, isn't quite as engaging, because the narrator isn't a lovable guy. We ca ...more
Sue Tincher
I wasn't enthralled with this trilogy that has to do with big themes of saintliness, illusion, friendship, and betrayal, played out on the little stage of a few people's lives, people who all started out in the tiny Canadian town of Deptford: Dunstan, the bachelor academic; Boy Staunton, the powerful businessman; David, drunken but brilliant lawyer and Boy's son; and Magnus, the world-famous magician. Each book in the trilogy re-examines the same lives from a different point of view. I came away ...more
Christian Schwoerke
While employing the "plain style", Davies fashions a fascinating collection of characters and incidents in these three novels. A simple act of an errant snowball precipitates a premature birth and sets the whole thing rolling, with the small-town boys of Deptford, Ontario, growing up to inhabit a world of wonders. Each character's life is a wellspring for more information both about that character and others who inhabit the nexus around the snowball, which once rolling includes birth, life, rege ...more
Elizabeth Luttinger
Aug 15, 2014 Elizabeth Luttinger rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Intellectual, solitary folks with an affinity for much older generations
Recommended to Elizabeth by: My father and God-father
My now 81 yr. old father is a misanthropic pack-rat who lives a rich mental life through books while outwardly barely functioning as a decent man. His attic, like his mind, is insulated entirely by books and that is where I discovered Robertson Davies, who I was not expected to understand at age 15. I devoured the trilogy nonetheless and came to understand, if nothing else, the rigidness of sexuality in the first part of the 20th century as well as the religious underpinnings (guilt and an over- ...more
Janice Frost
Robertson Davies was recommended to me by John Irving. Not personally - alas! Irving mentioned in an interview that Davies was one of his favourite writers and since Irving is one of mine...

It's hard to know where to begin commenting on Davis's masterpiece. The third book is named, 'World of Wonders' and this is exactly what you will encounter in the course of reading this trilogy.

It all begins in 'Fifth Business' with the narrator, Dunston Ramsay, dodging a stone-weighted snowball launched by
What a black hole.
This trilogy deals with secrets that bind the lives of those who share them. The three books are not as linear as the other trilogies: the 3 volumes deal with the same event, the death of a character, seen from various angles. I did find interesting that the art that Robertson Davies chose to pair up the art of magic with themes such as guilt, secrets, depression, insanity and, of course, psychotherapy.
I read this trilogy about 30 years ago. I remember being quite impressed with 2 of the 3 (5*) and a 4* on the third, but I can't remember which is which. All three books were removed from my library in one of my occasional pruning sprees some years ago and I had consequently forgotten completely about Robertson Davies. I'll have to give this trilogy another go.
Frances Sawaya
These three books are completely intertwined, yet each goes deeply into various aspects of human behavior from the dramatic to the psychological. And, it all is hinged on a seminal episode with a stone. In a sense this author has the same kind of ability to link characters and events across decades as does David Mitchell in "Cloud Atlas" or Scott with The Raj.
I will be forever indebted to my high school English teacher who had us read Fifth Business for our English class. I just re-read the trilogy and it just gets better with re-reading. The writing is clever and engaging and weaves a marvelous, almost mythical tale of one man's explorations of life, fate, religion, magic, psychiatry, and adventure.
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Goodreads Librari...: 024195262X (ISBN13: 9780241952627) 2 13 Aug 06, 2013 03:08AM  
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William Robertson Davies, CC, FRSC, FRSL (born August 28, 1913, at Thamesville, Ontario, and died December 2, 1995 at Orangeville, Ontario) was a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist, and professor. He was one of Canada's best-known and most popular authors, and one of its most distinguished "men of letters", a term Davies is sometimes said to have detested. Davies was the founding Ma ...more
More about Robertson Davies...

Other Books in the Series

The Deptford Trilogy (4 books)
  • Fifth Business
  • The Manticore
  • World of Wonders
Fifth Business What's Bred in the Bone (Cornish Trilogy, #2) The Rebel Angels (Cornish Trilogy, #1) The Manticore World of Wonders

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“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.” 22 likes
“A boy is a man in miniature, and though he may sometimes exhibit notable virtue, as well as characteristics that seem to be charming because they are childlike, he is also a schemer, self-seeker, traitor, Judas, crook, and villain - in short, a man.” 7 likes
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