FIFTH BUSINESS by Robertson Davies


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The fifth business in classical drama is undertaken by a lesser character who assists the denouement; he's the odd man out. Thus on the sidelines, or rather in the wings, is Dunstan Ramsay who, annoyed by a pious envoi to his forty five years of teaching in a Canadian boys' school, reviews his life. Most of it consists of his involvement (too strong a word, really) since his childhood with a Mrs. Dempster. After throwing a snowball with Boy (a secondary figure here) Mrs. Dempster has a child prematurely and lapses into a simple-minded state. A little later, wandering like Ophelia but toward a gravel pit, she had lain there publicly with a tramp and from that time on the Dempsters were ostracized. Dunstan's continuing responsibility and affection for Mrs. Dempster, a "fool-saint," continues through the years and occasions his tangential connections with Boy, with her absentee son (a magician), and his inquiry into the nature of faith and illusion, substance and shadow. . . . Mr. Davies' first novel in some years again attests to certain virtues: a quiet humor; a scrupulousness of observation; a civilized overview; but regretfully the unlived life, however well-examined, is not very interesting and all this "moral bookkeeping" leaves a faint net figure.
Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1970
ISBN: 0141186151
Page count: 276pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1970


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