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Fifth Business (Deptford Trilogy)

by Robertson Davies

ISBN 014004387X / 9780140043877 / 0-14-004387-X
Publisher Penguin Books
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

The first book of Robertson Davies's Deptford Trilogy tells the story of three men destined to be crucial players in each others' lives. The story is, in fact, the memoir of Dunstan Ramsay, a long-time boarding-school teacher, set to retire. Written to the headmaster of the school, the memoir intends to disprove the common belief that Ramsay is nothing more than a senile old professor, "doddering into retirement with tears in his eyes and a drop hanging from his nose." The story includes two other main characters, the outcast and eventual circus performer Paul Dempster and socialite Boy Staunton, with his "too glossy perfection."

The story of Ramsay's life begins when he is 10 years old, living in a small Canadian town called Deptford. A snowball thrown by Boy Staunton, intended for Ramsay, hits the pregnant mother of Paul Dempster, forcing her into labour early. She gives birth to a premature and deformed Paul. Ramsay feels responsible for this, and thus begins his guilty friendship with Paul, as well as his grudging friendship with Boy. Eventually, Dunstan Ramsay goes off to fight in the First World War, where he earns a Victoria Cross. He later travels throughout Europe and Mexico to pursue his interest in saints and write several books about them. He even attempts to prove that Paul's mother, whom he had taken a liking to over the years, is in fact a saint. Paul and Boy keep crossing paths with Dunstan, for good and ill, for the rest of his life. This fascinating, absorbing classic of Canadian literature is punctuated with elements of the comic, the supernatural, and the magical (even touching on the occult), while the writing itself is always elegant and at times exquisite. --Mark Frutkin [via]