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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies

The Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders) by Robertson Davies. New York: Penguin Books, 1990. ISBN: 01401.47551

This was my second time through this remarkable triad of novels by the dean (while still living) of Canadian belles lettres. And it was every bit as enjoyable the second time around. I expect to enjoy this trilogy again in another decade or so. Robertson Davies (1913-1995) may be an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, there's nothing else that will quite match up with one of his intricate, erudite masterpieces.

These three novels were originally published in 1970, 72 and 75, respectively, but I first encountered them in the early '90's when another librarian recommended another Davies novel, What's Bred in the Bone, if I remember correctly, and I was hooked.

So what are they about? The first one is the life's story of a history teacher at a boy's boarding school in Canada, and the somewhat tortured relationship he had with a very wealthy industrialist who grew up in the same tiny Canadian town. The two are linked—in the schoolmaster's mind anyhow, by an unfortunate even that occurred in their childhood. The rich kid (Boyd “Boy” Staunton”) throws a snowball, the poor smart kid dodged, and the Baptist preacher's wife was hit in the head, sending her into premature labor. From such a seemingly insignificant event is birthed the entire edifice of the story that follows.

Volume two is seen mostly through the Jungian psychoanalysis of “Boy's” son David, years later, after his father's unexplained death. Here we get an entirely different perspective on many of the same events and people who inhabited the first volume. Finally, the third volume tells the story of the boy whose premature birth was caused by the thrown snowball, and the hell he went through, his mother not right in the head, and his later life stolen away by the circus magician whose virtual slave and "bumboy" he becomes.

None of this probably sounds that appetizing, but the stories are wonderfully and skillfully told, as only Robertson Davies can tell them. As I said at the outset, Davies may be an acquired taste, but once acquired, there's nothing else like it. Try it, maybe you'll like it! And again, maybe not. Nevertheless, highly recommended by this avid reader.

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