Reviews of Fifth Business (1970)
Review by tollbaby (2005-01-13)
Fifth Business, a theatrical term actually invented by Davies for the novel, is meant to indicate the fifth of the main operatic players. The four main players' lives are entwined and influenced by the "Fifth Business" character, in a sort of subconscious synchronicity.
The main character in this first of Davies' Deptford trilogy, Dunstan Ramsay, is such a fifth business character. Without intent or effort, he shapes and defines the lives of those around him. In a beautifully woven and uniquely Canadian style that Davies made his own, Ramsay, Paul Dempster, Boy Staunton and the rest of the wonderfully believable characters capture the attention and the imagination of the reader.
This mainstay of high school English classes across Canada is well worth the read, even if you don't need a 4 page essay on the major themes of the novel. Davies writes with humour and wit, with passion and pain. I guess I got lucky - I had to take it in grade 12 English, and then again in grade 13. Although it's a fairly short novel (under 300 pages), it's not a quick, unsatisfying read. It has substance without being too bulky, and I highly recommend it as the first introduction to Robertson Davies. It will definitely make you want to read more.
Review by mojosmom (2004-07-26)
When Dunstable (later Dunstan) Ramsey is 10 years old, he ducks a snowball thrown at him by Percy Boyd Staunton. The snowball hits the pregnant wife of the Baptist minister and she falls, resulting in the premature birth of Paul Dempster and his mother's descent into "simpleness". Ramsey's feeling of responsibility for these events moves the story that follows, a story told by Ramsey upon his retirement as a school master.
Davies is a consummate storyteller, and is also a keen observer of human nature. I have yet to encounter a character of his who was not credible, or who behaved in a manner inconsistent with his psychology.
Review by Hellpig (2003-05-19)
This is one part of Davies' Deptford-triology (spl) which is one of the greatest and epic books I have ever read. I won't go into details but when I first read this book in the late 80's I was just stunned by its plot, the book actually opened up my eyes for other genres than SF, fantasy and horror - which at the time was what used to read most of the time.