Fifth Business

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
After retiring from forty five years of service as Senior History Master at a boy’s private school, our narrator Dunstan Ramsay, offended by an article which depicts him as a senile old man, decides to write a letter to the school’s headmaster so he can relate his life story and set the record straight. His complex friendship with Percy Staunton (aka Boy) provides plenty of content, with Percy having married Dunstan’s girl and taking advantage of life to the fullest as an industry magnate who just keeps getting more and more successful, even managing to grow richer during the great depression. There is also Mrs Dempster who occupies much of Dunstan’s thoughts and eventually his resources too, as he takes responsibility for an incident which occurred in his boyhood and which everyone believes has brought on her mental deterioration. Paul Dempster, her son born prematurely, presumably also because of the same incident, runs away to join the circus one day. It is Dunstan’s fascination (or obsession?) with saints which brings him to travel through Europe and eventually to a magic show which briefly reunites him with Paul. The story is quite serious in tone but Robertson’s skill as a master story teller keeps it interesting, and a sudden twist toward the end of the book creates a nice bit of intrigue to lead us into the next book in the trilogy.

However, I won’t be following it up with the second book quite just yet, as there are several unread books which I’ve promised to send out to people via BookMooch and must therefore take priority. Which is a good thing in a way, because I always have trouble choosing which book I should pick up next (not surprisingly)).

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