Fifth BusinessFifth Business by Robertson Davies

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

how is it i’ve never read Davies before? it’s sort of like saying i somehow missed out on the moon all these years.

he was a great, great writer. i definitely have to read at least the other two in this trilogy.

this book is told as an epistolary tale, sort of–it’s a long letter to the headmaster of protagonist Ramsay’s school. Ramsay is an odd duck–not emotionless but definitely chilly, views the world at a slant, is not without a sense of humor or an evident bitterness.

plus, he’s got a thing about saints, and yet he prides himself on his rationality.

it’s really the deep, piercing perceptiveness of Ramsay/Davies that makes this  such an enthralling book. Ramsay has some blind spots, to be sure, but he sees most things with a painful clarity–how people run away from the truth of their own failings, how we stand on the backs of others to raise ourselves up, what straw most of our houses are built of. Ramsay’s not caustic, however (in fact he’s quite funny sometimes), and one could learn a lot from him.

Davies clearly knew his humans.

well, he knew his men. i am not so sure he knew women. which is the only flaw in this work–the women are pretty much resigned to madonna/whore/mother roles, and they really don’t have much dimensionality. the one possible exception is Liesl, but she’s really more of a monster than a woman–Ramsay does go on at length about how ugly she is, and how she has a “masculine” mind, and the whole fight/seduction scene is pretty flatly unbelievable (plus, somehow, here’s yet another woman who is doing it all for Ramsey’s salvation. yawn).

still. this book is one i’ll read again for its insight. given how few books are truly insightful, this one is a polished gem.