Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"The Deptford Trilogy" by Robertson Davies

I'd never heard of this book until Sam mentioned it to me. Someone had once asked him if The Amnesiac was influenced by The Deptford Trilogy, but the title (and its author) was unfamiliar to him, so the answer was no. However, I can see how the two works are similar. They're both written in a sort of memoir-like style, each dancing back and forth in time rather than being laid out chronologically, each slowly revealing clues to a mystery. Not only that, but both can apparently be categorized as "slipstream fiction," which is a new term to me, and a great discovery--it's nice to finally be able to place Sam's books in a genre that is slightly more descriptive than "fiction". 

Each of the three parts of The Deptford Trilogy describes the lives of the same small handful of characters, but a different one becomes the main focus each time. The first and third books are actually narrated by the same character, though in the third book he is relating someone else's story. There are distinct voices between the first and second books, as there should be, but I didn't find that the voices of the narrator of the first and third books matched up. In the first book he sounds slightly pompous and fussy, while in the third he seems more content and quietly confident. I suppose it's forgivable as he is older and perhaps more mellow by the time the third book rolls around, but I couldn't help but view it as a flaw anyway. A minor flaw, though, despite which I was able to immensely enjoy reading.

Fifth Business

Swinging from childhood to present, encompassing secrets and mysteries and sainthood, Fifth Business tells the story of boyhood friends and the butterfly-effect-like consequences of one errant snowball. The narrator, Dunstable "Dunny" Ramsay, is "neither hero nor heroine, confidante nor villain," but he is linked to all of those and is an essential element of the story in his own way.

The Manticore

The grown son of the former snowball-thrower travels to Switzerland for Jungian therapy, through which we revisit much of what was revealed in Fifth Business, but from another perspective, Something his therapist said caught my attention: "Between thirty-five and forty-five everybody has to turn a corner in his life, or smash into a brick wall." Is this true? This sounds like a glorified description of midlife crisis, which I generally regard more as an excuse than a reality, belied by the fact that my life certainly turned a corner (an understatement, I think) at thirty-seven. 

World of Wonders

The indirect victim of the snowball, Paul Dempster, was swept away by a traveling carnival when he was a child. We learned this in the first two parts of the trilogy, but World of Wonders is where we hear the way he was transformed from Nobody into Magnus Eisengrim, magician extraordinaire. My favorite quote is from the final page: "Where there's a will, there are always two ways."

Did anyone else totally picture Edward Norton playing Eisengrim the entire way through this trilogy? The Illusionist is entirely to blame, I'm sure. 

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