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Fifth Business (The Deptford Trilogy #1)

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  9,301 ratings  ·  561 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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Community Reviews

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Terry
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...more
Tyler Jones
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
Carrie
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
Wanda
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...more
Jessica
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...more
Terri Jacobson
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
Akshita
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...more
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
Ali Green
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...more
Jennifer
"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...more
Diane Barnes
Robertson Davies is one of my favorite writers, because I feel so intellectual and learned when I read him. Fifth Business is the first novel in the Deptford trilogy. The plot is complicated and intricate, but you only realize that when you've finished because the prose is so effortless. Fifth business is a dramatic term denoting a character who is neither the hero nor the villain in the play, but the person who precipitates the events taking place by his relationship to the main characters. Thi...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
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...more
Leonore
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
Eleanor
Jul 03, 2007 Eleanor rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
James
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
Cheryl
From Dunstan Ramsay's point of view, all his life he has exerted an influence on those around him. A kind of "fifth business actor" - not in the limelight, but still causing things to happen. But perhaps all of us are fifth business actors in the lives of others?

This novel is about the consequences from our actions. The action can be good, bad, or seemingly innocent; and the consequence can be something totally unforseen.
Chance Lee
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...more
Shirley Schwartz
A Canadian Classic! For some reason this is the first book I've ever read by the great Robertson Davies. This is a travesty since I love Canadian literature, and Mr. Davies is an icon in that select group. This book is the first in the Deptford Trilogy and it was given to me as a gift. I am sure that the giver knew that it would start me on a totally different reading tack with an author that I should have been familiar with by now. My thanks go to the gift giver for finally bringing this extrem...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Meet Dunny, the "Fifth Business" in his own life story. Because of an accident (during the war) his left leg was damaged and now he limps.

A short definition of "Fifth Business" is given just before the table of contents of the book, but I like the one given by one character on page 227 thereof--

"'You do not know what that (Fifth Business) is? Well, in opera in a permanent company of the kind we keep up in Europe you must have a prima donna--always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and...more
Jerry
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...more
Andrea
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
Agne
WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

"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...more
Bette
Davies uses just-post-turn-of-the-century high brow language that always makes me think I might be a little bit smart. But then I remember that it's probably his ribald wit that I really dig and I'm not that clever after all. Not only are Davies' stories unlike any other literary ride, but I always learn something that will be useful when the conversation is lagging at a cocktail party (especially if Kim is there). In this I learned the meaning of the term fifth business: Those roles, usually in...more
Guillermojimenezespneo
Vaya que si hay una a veces discreta, otras veces amplia diferencia entre las literaturas canadiense y from USA, para bien de la primera. Ésta, espero la primera pero no la última de Davies me sumerje en otra realidad que casi borda los límites de lo desquiciado, pero se conserva en una especie de hiperrealismo onírico, como sueños son muchas de las vidas de gente que sí conozco. La muerte en salmuera de la gente de estos universos además de divertida es sinónimamente cruel. Esos comportamientos...more
Andrea
I'm a little more than halfway through this book. I read it more than 20 years ago and completely forgot the story, and now I'm desperate to read everything Robertson Davies has ever written. I am totally absorbed in this novel.

Most contemporary fiction I read cannot approach Robertson Davies' writing in the areas of skill, story line, depth of psychological questioning, and any other area I could think of. The narrator Dunstable has a fascinating introspective quality that allows him to reveal...more
Sharyl
This is the story of Dunstable Ramsey's life, written out in first person and addressed to the headmaster of the school where Ramsey had spent about forty years of his professional life. After all these years, Ramsey leaves behind this testament with the simple desire that someone understand what he had lived for.

His story gets off to a dismal start, as he is raised in a very rigid fashion in Deptford, a small village in Canada. Ramsey starts his memoir with the story that informed the rest of h...more
Moktoklee
My Opinion of Fifth Business
Neil McKenzie-Sutter

I’ve got mixed feelings about Fifth Business. There were some parts of the book that I thought were pretty hilarious, and others that I could barely stand to read all the way through. I found myself groaning inwardly whenever certain characters were mentioned because after they had appeared once or twice, you would know whether you were in for a tooth pulling session or not. Milo Papple was one of those characters. Milo Papple’s dialogue that took...more
Timothy Dean
Robertson Davies, Professor and man of letters: I enjoyed this book thoroughly, both when I read it several decades ago, and last year. His characters and storytelling are elegant and unforgettable. "Fifth Business" is a theater term that means, on stage, a character whose function is to bring about the key action. Dustan Ramsey, the fictional teller of the story, is "fifth business." He knows all about a stone in a snowball that hits a woman (who may be a saint) and causes her to lose her mind....more
Shauna
In opera, the Soprano is the diva, the Tenor the hero, the Bass is the villain, and the Alto support, but the Baritone is the "fifth business," the one who has no counterpart but is still necessary to move the story along. Supposedly the narrator of our book, Dunstable Ramsay, is the fifth business, and it makes for a curious tale, when the hero of the story does not see himself as a hero. Ramsay carries around a lot of guilt and responsibility, but always because he sees himself as the supporti...more
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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
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The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders What's Bred in the Bone (Cornish Trilogy, #2) The Rebel Angels (Cornish Trilogy, #1) The Manticore World of Wonders

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“It was as though she was an exile from a world that saw things her way” 17 likes
“We have educated ourselves into a world from which wonder, and he fear and dread and splendor and freedom of wonder have been banished. Of course wonder is costly. You couldn't incorporate it into a modern state, beacuse it is the antithesis of the anxiously worshiped security which is what a modern state is asked to give. Wonder is marvellous but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel. It is undemocratic, discriminatory and pitiless.” 9 likes
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