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Fifth Business (The Deptford Trilogy #1)

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  12,925 Ratings  ·  776 Reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 252 pages
Published 2002 by Penguin (first published 1970)
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Apr 10, 2013 Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, canadian
4.5 stars

Robertson 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 paro
Oct 12, 2016 Teresa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e5, n-canada
Robertson Davies (Canadá, 1913 — 1995) escreveu onze romances, organizados em trilogias (a última inacabada). Este é o primeiro livro da denominada de Deptford e o único traduzido para português (para grande pena minha).

Dunsten Ramsay - indignado com a notícia publicada num jornal, acerca do jantar de despedida da escola onde lecionou durante quarenta e cinco anos, na qual é retratado apenas como "um velho e típico mestre-escola" - faz uma exposição escrita, dirigida ao reitor, na qual conta a s
Feb 27, 2009 Carrie rated it it was amazing
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 co ...more
Tyler Jones
Feb 12, 2011 Tyler Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first (and best) novel in the famed Deptford Trilogy is as rare and wonderful as anything in literature. There are very few novels that manage to be so erudite (the number of classical and mythological references is mind boggling) and tightly-plotted. In fact the story unfolds at such a break-neck pace that Tom Clancy ought to read it to get some pointers on building suspense. And John Irving ought to give one dollar for every book he's ever sold to the estate of Robertson Davies...but that' ...more
Jul 06, 2016 Kirstin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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 dénouement, 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."
–Robertson Davies

Fifth Buisness is the memoir of Dunstable(Dunstan) Ramsey, newly retired school teacher unhappy with his farewell write-up in the school
Sep 24, 2013 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Fifth Business has steadily moved up the ranks of my quaint list of favourite books. It teeters towards the top as an overwhelming reflection of Canada, the Scotch immigrants who settled here, and perhaps even me. I learned a lot about my mother, my grandfather, and myself in reading this book. Is that the epitome of the Fifth Business, or the antithesis? To assume I can see my own lineage woven through the fabric of a tale published a decade before my conception?

There is something so hauntingl
Ali Green
Dec 15, 2012 Ali Green rated it did not like it
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 pers
I love this book--it is one of my comfort reads. I took it to Ecuador with me for pleasant airport/airplane reading and now remember why I love it so much. It was the first Canadian literature that I was introduced to in undergraduate university days and it got me excited about Can Lit.

Perhaps this novel speaks to me because I used to feel a bit like Fifth Business in my own life--a supporting cast member to those around me. But I think since those undergraduate days, I have learned to be the th
Как приятно возвращаться к книгам спустя много лет и осознавать: в 17 лет ты уже могла отличить хорошую книгу от плохой, а именно эта оказалась настолько хорошей, что и через ещё десять лет вернуться к ней не помешает.
(And the audible production is really good, the narrator fits the text perfectly and treats it with due respect.)
Ben Babcock
I do not like the cover on this edition of Fifth Business. I don't remember when I first read this book—definitely in high school, but I hate to say that it's now long enough ago I can't remember the exact grade. I didn't like the cover then, and I don't like it now. There is just something unsettling about the composite of faces. I interpret it as a representation of the various people we are, at different stages of our life and even simultaneously, an allusion to the Jungian archetypes that be ...more
Aug 27, 2015 Agne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Classics fans
Recommended to Agne by: Main Brookline Public Library Book Group

"Fifth Business,” the first book in The Deptford Trilogy by Canadian writer Robertson Davies, is Dunstan Ramsay’s memoir written as a letter to a Headmaster of Colborne College, where Dunstan was teaching for 45 years. This letter-memoir was provoked by a farewell article which offended Dunstan deeply as it downplayed his accomplishments and presented him as "a typical old schoolmaster doddering into retirement with tears in his eyes and a drop hanging from his nose." The story
Terri Jacobson
Nov 28, 2014 Terri Jacobson rated it it was amazing
This is the first book of Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy, and it's a challenge and a joy to read. The writing is luscious and deep with many touches of humor. Davies introduces all the themes of this trilogy in this first volume. We are introduced to Dunstable (Dunstan) Ramsey as a young boy, and the characters of his childhood have a great impact on his growth and development as a person. Davies explains the concept of "Fifth Business", someone or something that has great influence on t ...more
Alan Chen
Mar 05, 2015 Alan Chen rated it it was amazing
This is the first time I came across Davies and this introduction to his work is impressive. His prose, while beautiful, is quite simple. He doesn't attempt to jar the reader with unusual metaphors or unusually long sentences, or strange punctuation. Instead the sentences are well drawn and they inform the plot and that of the characters.
The story is told through Dunstan Ramsay's perspective from that of an old man and relates his life in a letter to the headmaster of the school he taught for ov
Apr 06, 2011 Akshita rated it did not like it
I honestly didn't understand this book.....and neither did my classmates. Although this book may have many archatypes....I think a different bookight have been better as this book didn't seem to grasp anyone's attention in our class. I feel this book can be better understood by people who are more mature and should be read when you are older....not grade 11....because you cannot relate to the characters or anything the book is talking about at that age.......!!!
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This story is somewhat bizarre, and yet somehow oddly compelling. I kept telling myself I'd read just a little more, little more.......

The surface story is the autobiography of the narrator, "Dunny" Ramsay. He gets offended by a retirement piece written about him that makes him appear as a dim and dull old boarding school teacher who never had anything interesting happen to him. He writes his own story to set the record straight and tells about his upbringing, service in World War I, world trave
Chance Lee
Jan 11, 2012 Chance Lee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
While I didn't quite "like" the book, I do respect it and its author. Robertson Davies writes well. Personally, I didn't find the book compelling. Although I have enjoyed many books with unlikeable characters, my enjoyment and appreciation comes from the fact that I find them compelling. I found very characters in Fifth Business compelling, least being the narrator.

My book club discussion illuminated many aspects of the book, increasing my appreciation for it to three stars. It is very well craf
Feb 06, 2016 Carlo rated it it was amazing
I'm ashamed to say I bought this book in a used bookstore because of the cover, which I'm doubly ashamed to say that I liked

WTF....yeas, I know.

Anyway, as I'm preparing to make Canada my permanent home in the coming months, I wanted to explore Canadian literature and came across the book in one of the top-10-Canadian-novels-of-all-time lists online.

Well, it was a great surprise! How I enjoyed reading this little gem of a book! The simple yet beautifully told story, full of wit and satire absorb
Paul Secor
As I did with the Cornish Trilogy, I read the last volume of the Deptford Trilogy, World of Wonders, first - for no good reason, other than it was readily available to read. And, as with the Cornish Trilogy, I'm finding that this was a big, big mistake, so I'm reading Deptford from the beginning and will reread World of Wonders.
Robertson Davies was one of the master storytellers of the twentieth century. One of the things I enjoy about his novels is that no one is perfect. Just as in life, no on
Mar 10, 2010 Jerry added it
My lifelong involvement with the Fifth Business began at 5:58 o’clock pm on 1 March 2010. I still remember the strong feelings and expressions on my face as I eagerly scanned your letter, and I must say Mr Dunstan, your letter was beyond crafty and colourful – it was ingenious. It revealed the truths, the lies, and those burning thoughts you held within your mind for all these years. You took me through a truly marvellous journey.
You had me confused at first when you talked about the Mrs Dempst
Jan 29, 2016 Darryl rated it really liked it
The first novel in The Deptford Trilogy concerns three men, Dunstable Ramsay, Percy Boyd "Boy" Staunton, and Paul Dempster, who grew up in the fictional Canadian town of Deptford, which is based on Robertson Davies' home town of Thamesville, Ontario. Their lives are linked by the events on one fateful day in 1908, when young Percy throws a snowball in anger at Dunstable, and instead hits Paul's mother, who is pregnant with him, causing her to go into premature labor that evening. The novel is n ...more
Yair Ben-Zvi
Feb 12, 2016 Yair Ben-Zvi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's something distinctly lacking in a lot of modern literature that this somewhat more antiquated piece of literature has in spades: enthusiasm. In fact, not since the better prose of Saul Bellow have I experienced a literature so determinedly skillful and driven to a single point, that point being adventurous literary exploration and analysis of themes and ideas fettered smoothly to the act of storytelling; that the depth of theme never overshadows the exigencies of storytelling puts Robert ...more
Jan 08, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it
"You are still young enough to think that torment of the spirit is a splendid thing, a sign of a superior nature. But you are no longer a young man; you are a youngish middle-aged man, and it is time you found out that these spiritual athletics do not lead to wisdom."

I think the reason this book struck me is because it fleshes out something I've been pondering. Which is the small and mean ways in which we sometimes act; that we can't really excuse or explain. And the mental and spiritual contort
Jul 25, 2009 Shane rated it really liked it
One of the better books of Davies that I read sometime ago. I had just written a book myself about two alter-ago male characters seeking redemption and an early reader told me that it smacked of The Fifth Business - so I read the Davies version. I am gald that there were only faint parallels but the Davies version made me question some of the shallower parts of my book ( which is still to seek publication).
Feb 29, 2012 Leonore rated it it was amazing
The book is exquisitely written in some of the best prose I have ever read. The book came together in part II and became much more compelling. The book starts in a small town in Canada, where several lives intersect and the book follows them over their lives until they all meet again in some form. The protagonist at about age 10 is having a disagreement with his disagreeable, spoiled rich playmate, and the latter throws a snowball with a stone inside at the protagonist. The protagonist ducks, an ...more
João Carlos
Sep 05, 2015 João Carlos rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: l2014, favorites, 2014best

Robertson Davies (1913 - 1995)

“O Quinto da Discórdia” é o primeiro livro da Trilogia de Deptford, do escritor canadiano Robertson Davies (1913 - 1995), editado originalmente em 1970.
A narrativa tem início na forma de uma carta escrita por Dunstable Ramsay ou Dunstan Ramsay, professor universitário reformado, ao reitor da Universidade numa tentativa de explicação sobre a morte trágica e misteriosa do político e amigo Percy Boyd Staunton.
Ramsay regressa ao “seu” passado para nos contar como o arre
May 22, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fifth Business is the first installment of the Deptford Trilogy by Davies and it is the story of the life of the narrator, Dunstan Ramsay. The entire story is told in the form of a letter written by Ramsay on his retirement from teaching at Colborne College, addressed to the school Headmaster. The book's title was explained by the author as a theatrical term, a character essential to the action but not a principal actor. This is made explicit in the focus of much the action on others, including ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Aug 08, 2014 Elizabeth (Alaska) rated it really liked it
This, where would normally be the dedication:
Fifth Business...Definition

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.

- Tho. Overskou, Den Danske Skueplads
Told in the first person in the name of Dunstable
Jul 03, 2007 Eleanor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who want an arts education without the expense
Shelves: canadiana
Robertson Davies is one of the most well-read writers I've ever read. His knowledge of the classic canon of English lit is unreal. (Having spent a stint at the Old Vic Theatre in London and a while as a journalist, editor of Saturday Night magazine, Master of Massey College at U of T, etc. I'm sure didn't hurt.) So, part of the thrill of reading his books is picking up little tidbits of knowledge that he absorbed along the way. For example, in the Psalms somewhere there is a line about how "I am ...more
Victor Sonkin
This is a wonderful book (thanks @Nanou) by an author I had never heard about. It's a first-person memoir of sorts (written as a letter to the Headmaster of the school where the narrator had worked all his life, but that is rather irrelevant) of a man born in a large Canadian village at the very end of the 19th century about his outwardly uneventful life (apart from a tour of duty during World War I). Religious and irreverent, deeply psychological and subversive toward any psychologizing, a book ...more
This is a coming of age story that is a classic Canadian novel that I read for a course in College English. After all these years I had forgotten how astonishing, amazing and full of soul searching it was. I love this story and plan to read the rest of the trilogy when I get a hold of it. There is an extraordinary ease that Robertson Davies had with his writing that just flows along. Readers are swept into Dunstan Ramsay's world, the consequences of choices and actions along with our system of ...more
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William Robertson Davies, CC, FRSC, FRSL (died in 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 Master of Massey College, a graduate college at the University of Toro ...more
More about Robertson Davies...

Other Books in the Series

The Deptford Trilogy (4 books)
  • The Manticore
  • World of Wonders
  • The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business/The Manticore/World of Wonders

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“If you don't hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you'll get.” 26 likes
“It was as though she was an exile from a world that saw things her way” 20 likes
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