WORLD OF WONDERS by Robertson Davies


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This is the third volume of the Canadian writer's roman fleuve (Fifth Business--1970; The Manticore--1972); they are interlocked by ideas rather than events (which hardly exist for Davies) and reappearing characters--Dunstan Ramsay in particular. Davies, who has been universally considered very "intelligent," writes a kind of andante cantabile prose which often lulls you into inattention--particularly in this book which appears to be, at the beginning, the soliloquy of Magnus, a great conjurer. He confides the particulars of his life during the filming of a vehicle on Robert-Houdin (Houdini) in which his listeners concur that Magnus is far more interesting than R-H, in fact "the damndest man around." One traces his footsteps as the son of a "hoor" to a carnival to an interim spent putting together the toy collection of a great industrialist to the seemingly interminable time he spends on tour. But this is all just another kind of vehicle for Davies' idees recues on God and the Devil and Faustian bargains and "possessions of the soul" and illusion--above all illusion. Davies, to call a spade a spade, or fustian "the warp and woof of fustian," is an old-fashioned writer; words like a "despoiled girl" or "beglamored" are hardly offset by modernisms ("Oh balls") and his divagations take the strangest turns; after settling down with the notion that you are only following the autobiographical story of his magus, you are back at the close with the almost unremembered and unfinished part of his Fifth Business--the shooting of Boy Staunton. . . . An elaborate, elegant if you will, mummery, not only of the real world but those older other ones. At one point Magnus comments, and all corroborate, that "without attention to detail, you will have no illusion." But then illusion relies on more than detail and sonorous metaphysical inquiry particularly if cast in the form of a mystery play.
Pub Date: March 15th, 1976
ISBN: 0143039148
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1976


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