Corinne's Reviews > Fifth Business

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
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's review
Jan 24, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: 2009, coming-of-age, tragedy, the-nook-book-club, canada, mystery
Read in December, 2009

In Fifth Business, we meet Dunstable Ramsay when he's already an old man. His long years as a schoolmaster and historian have prepared him well to write his own story, to record his own truth. A good portion of this story takes place in the tiny Canadian town of Deptford. Here, everyone has their religion - and piousness is a virtue. For the 10 year old Ramsay, a split second decision (coupled with a stringent guilt complex), creates a situation that changes not only the the course of his life, but that of Deptford as well.

Ah, Deptford. What an intimate portrait of a small town and its early century closed-mindedness. The characters of Ramsay's youth - the enemy/best friend, a pastor's wife and son - these Deptford relationships will serve as a backdrop to the rest of his Ramsay's life, even into the horrors of World War I, where he returns home as changed man.

I am having such a hard time even trying to summarize this novel - it takes you to the most random places - a bombed out church in France, a tiny Canadian town, a magic show in South America. Each location is mystically tied together in Ramsay's experience and his inability to discount things he knows he's seen will force him to decide if he's a believer in saints and miracles or not. I know that it's beautifully written - tied and woven together like the fabric of a life, and you can tell that Ramsay is going over that fabric with a magnifying glass, trying to figure out the real and inconsequential in order to determine what his life amounts to and where else it can go now. It's self-absorbed and honest - a tribute to finding a way to live the life you choose, accept your role as "fifth business" and then dealing with the consequences and moving on, trying to do better.

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