Fifth Business (Trilogie de Deptford #1)
by Robertson Davies
Paperback, 252 pages
Published 2002 by Penguin
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man’s land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those around him. His apparently innocent involvement in such innocuous events as the throwing of a snowball or the teaching of card tricks to a small boy in the end prove neither innocent nor innocuous. Fifth Business stands alone as a remarkable story told by a rational man who discovers that the marvelous is only another aspect of the real.
This is the story of Dunstable Ramsey’s life, written out in first person and addressed to the headmaster of the school where Ramsey had spent about forty years of his professional life. After all these years, Ramsey leaves behind this testament with the simple desire that someone understand what he had lived for.
This is a fascinating story, in which Ramsey wrestles with his own life’s meaning and duties. Some of the interesting characters he meets while studying in Europe (on sabbatical) do much to help him out.
Without ruining the plot, there are corresponding characters in Ramsey’s story, and it doesn’t give too much away to say that Percy Staunton is certainly the villianous one. Also, there is a mystery of sorts that will be solved at the very end.
I’m leaving out a very important character entirely, so the future reader has something to discover. One of the things that made this book such a pleasure to read was the dialogue Ramsey has with some of the most vivid, engaging characters I’ve read in a long time.This is a book of ideas folded into a compelling, grounded story, and to say any more than that would be to give all of its wonderful surprises away.