I very rarely rate a novel five stars. It's also harder to write a glowing review than a scathing one. So what in the world am I doing giving this book five stars?
I certainly wouldn't if I didn't think Fifth Business
was worthy of such accolades. And yet at first glance the novel looks like it's all over the map: an old man, obsessed with hagiology, tells the story of his life, which involves canonizing his friend's literally insane mother, travelling the world with a prosthetic leg, and hanging out with polyglot magicians. There's also a murder mystery, but it only happens in the last 35 pages.
By all accounts, this story sounds like a dud. But thanks to Robertson Davies' masterful writing, Fifth Business
succeeds on all counts. It's at once a definitive statement of small-town Canadian rustication—Robertson Davies is one of the Canadian greats—and a hilarious tale of academia and human relationships. The novel is the first of the so-called Deptford Trilogy, a series based on characters from the small, boring town of Deptford. Each novel in the trilogy stands alone as a superior work of fiction; together, the series is arguably as complete and encompassing as anything by your favourite master of fiction.
Distilled with a wry humour (at one point a mortician dresses a corpse with Chanel No. 5), the story is also darkly psychological in nature—Davies has the reader on the analyst's couch and is having us tell our own story in a way. (In fact, the second novel in the trilogy, The Manticore
, sees a major character's son spend much of the book in an actual psychologist's office.) The book's ending, a murder that serves as the trilogy's foundation stone, reveals the significance of the title Fifth Business
but also allows the reader to consider his own prejudices, his bitterness, his self-loathing. This is the rare comedy with real soul, a fun read that doesn't leave you bloated with empty calories afterward.
I can't say enough good about Fifth Business
, but I'm sort of hopped up on three cups of coffee right now so this will have to do. Aaaaaaaaaaaahl be back though. (That doesn't happen in Fifth Business
; I don't know why I included it in the review. Sorry guys.)