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Fifth Business

(The Deptford Trilogy #1)

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  15,787 ratings  ·  986 reviews
The New York Times\nA marvelously enigmatic novel, elegantly written and driven by irresistible narrative force.
Mass Market Paperback, CAN / US, 266 pages
Published 1988 by Penguin Books (first published 1970)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  15,787 ratings  ·  986 reviews

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Start your review of Fifth Business (The Deptford Trilogy, #1)
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 gl/>"Those

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 Me
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 Seventies...

Davies’ trilogy is Magic too.

This is the first book. All three together make up a long and intriguing journey through the magically mur
Jul 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
Canada behind the gloss

For 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 more than either. Davies ability to describe Canada's uniqueness is unparalleled and itself unique. Fifth Business is a sort of representative history of the
Em Lost In Books
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4-star, 1970-79, 2017
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 sole ...more
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
"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 neve
Ali Green
Dec 15, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 firs
Feb 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan Rice
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 a
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Effortless to read. I rarely become this engrossed in a novel. Robertson Davies is a wonderful storyteller. Reminds me of a better (and more concise) John Irving.
Tyler Jones
Feb 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Madelyn Ck
Feb 20, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I cannot stand this book. It may be technically interesting, and good archetype study, but its entire premise fails. Dunny's contention is that his life WAS interesting, despite indications otherwise. Too bad he told the story in the most long winded and torpor-inducing way possible. The character's life was certainly eventful, but not at all interesting. This is a mind-bogglingly boring book to read. You know Grandpa Simpson's "onion on my belt, which was the style at the time" speech? This is ...more
Nov 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
"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
Jul 29, 2013 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
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
Last week was Robertson Davies readalong week in the blog world, which was my excuse to finally try him for the first time. Of course, Canadians have long recognized what a treasure he is, but he’s less known elsewhere. I do remember that Erica Wagner, one of my literary heroes (an American in England; former books editor of the London Times, etc.), has expressed great admiration for his work.

I started with what I had to hand: Fifth Business (1970), the first volume of The Deptford Trilogy. In the
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 become more ...more
Jul 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Classics fans
Recommended to Agnė 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 sto
Apr 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: supporting characters
Shelves: 2017
This isn't about a boy who, through vicious thoughtlessness, nearly destroys an entire family and denies it for the rest of his life. It's not about his poor wife. It's not about the woman he injures, who may be a saint; it's not about the son who barely survives and goes on to be the world's greatest magician, and it's certainly not about whether vengeance will ever be served. It's about Fifth Business, the "odd man out," a bystander:
Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Vbystander:
Dec 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: character-study
Not sure what to say about the book, because I didn't find it spectacular but not terrible either -- oh the curse of the three-star novel!
Good but not great?
Another "classic" that probably plays well in English classes with English teachers, as it would be easy to discuss the character interplay in a literature class: the meaning of "fifth business" and how the rest of the story ultimately revolves around a central character who doesn't play the central action of the story, but whose
Diane Barnes
Apr 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: motley-crew, re-reads
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
Mar 24, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.......!!!
Aug 04, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own, fiction
If anyone ever tells you to read this, punch them in the face and never speak to them again.
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
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,
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: THose interested in Canadian Lit &/or Anti-Heroic tales...
Shelves: reviewed
To be sure The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies seems in many ways a rather old-fashioned book, the 1st part of the author's Deptford Trilogy, a tale involving the curiously prolonged linkage of Percy Boyd "Boy" Stanton & Dunstan Ramsay, for whom "Boy" Stanton represents a lifelong friend and a lifelong enemy. What drives the story is the fact that while the two characters are so very different in almost every way, their lives seem oddly inseparable. When the novel begins in late December 1908, "B ...more
Yair Ben-Zvi
Jan 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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,
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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 Toronto. ...more

Other books in the series

The Deptford Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Manticore (The Deptford Trilogy, #2)
  • World of Wonders (The Deptford Trilogy, #3)
“If you don't hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you'll get.” 35 likes
“It was as though she was an exile from a world that saw things her way” 23 likes
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