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Reviews of Salterton Trilogy, the: Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, and A Mixture of Frailties (1986)

Review by mojosmom (2004-04-23)

Through the device of a community theatre's production of The Tempest, Davies lays bare the psyches of his characters. We meet Hector Mackilwraith, the mathematics teacher surprisingly capable of passion, Griselda Webster, the focus of that passion, and her younger sister Freddy, an incipient moonshiner. Roger Tasset, vile seducer, also has designs on Griselda, as does Solly Bridgetower, when not in thrall to his mother. The book culminates on opening night, when . . . but that would be telling ;-))

One scene that will be particularly appreciated by BookCrossers occurs when, prior to the auction of her late grandfather's goods, Miss Valentine Rich (who is also the director of the play) opens his library to give away his books to members of the clergy. It's a hoot!

"She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books. This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose. Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. but there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want the books to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, torange on their shelves, to have at command. They want books as a Turk is thought to want concubines -- not to be hastily deflowered, but to be kept at their master's call, and enjoyed more often in thought than in reality."


Someone has played a joke - an advertisement falsely announcing the engagement of Pearl Vambrace and Solly Bridgetower has been placed in the local paper. How this act affects not only the Vambraces and Bridgetowers, but many others in the town as well, provides the bones for this marvelous novel.

With his usual skill, Davies dissects the townspeople, exposing their foibles, motivations - conscious and unconscious, weaknesses and strengths.


Add Robertson Davies to the list of authors who can write credibly about the opposite sex.

In this account of a young Canadian woman, plucked by happenstance from a working-class, fundamentalist existence to study voice in London, he gets in her skin. Her growth as a musician and as a woman is presented realistically and naturally. As she begins to understand her real talents, as she falls into situations without thinking, as she deals with her own embarrassment at her upbringing, we truly get to know her. One of the best parts of the book is the description of how her work on a solo passage of Bach's St. Matthew Passion causes her to reflect on the creed she was brought up in, what her most deeply held beliefs really are, and how the life she is living at that moment is at odds with those beliefs.

The other characters are, for the most part, also finely drawn, though I don't think we really understand them as well.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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