SARcasm











{January 14, 2012}   Fifth Business

So sick and unmotivated seems to land one with some time on their hands – that certainly covers me, where last week I managed to complete Robertson Davies’ “Fifth Business” off of my 101 Books in 1001 Days list.

1. Dead and Gone – Charlaine Harris
2. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
3. Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi
4. The Year of Living Biblically – A.J. Jacobs
5. A History of God – Karen Armstrong
6. Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama
7. Beloved – Toni Morrison
8. ‘Tis – Frank McCourt
9. The Host – Stephenie Meyers
10. The Constant Princess – Phillipa Gregory
11. Wicked – Gregory Maguire
12. The Six Wives of Henry the 8th – Alison Weir
13. Eleanor of Aquitaine – Alison Weir
14. Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom
15. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
16. The Two Towers – J.R.R. TOlkien
17. The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien
18. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
19. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling
20. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling
21. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling
22. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling
23. Dracula – Bram Stoker
24. Last Night at the Chateau Marmont – Laura Weisberger
25. The Inferno – Dante
26. Towelhead – Alicia Erian
27. Sex, Lies, and Headlocks – Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham
28. The Way the Crow Flies – Ann-Marie MacDonald
29. The Robber Bride – Margaret Atwood
30. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
31. This United Church of Ours – Ralph Milton
32. Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman
33. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
34. Stardust – Neil Gaiman
35. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
36. The First Christmas – Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
37. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
38. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
39. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
40. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
41. Deception Point – Dan Brown
42. Digital Fortress – Dan Brown
43. The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown
44. Lolita – Vladimir Nobokov
45. Atonement – Ian McEwan
46. All the King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren
47. Under the Dome – Stephen King
48. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
49. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
50. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
51. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
52. Scarlett – Alexandra Ripley
53. White Noise – Don De Litto
54. Their Eyes were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
55. Primary Colours – Anonymous
56. Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
57. Ragtime – E.L. Doctorow
58. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
59. Misquoting Jesus – Bart Ehrman
60. Fast Food Nation – Eric Schlasser
61. My Years as Prime Minister – Jean Chretien
62. Memoirs – Pierre Trudeau
63. Shake Hands with the Devil – Romeo d’Allaire
64. Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin
65. The Secret Mulroney Tapes – Peter C. Newman
66. Why I Hate Canadians – Will Ferguson
67. Planet Simpson – Chris Turner
68. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
69. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – Douglas Adams
70. Life, the Universe and Everything – Douglas Adams
71. So Long and Thanks for All the Fish – Douglas Adams
72. Mostly Harmless – Douglas Adams
73. Fifth Business – Robertson Davies
74. The Manticore – Robertson Davies
75. World of Wonders – Robertson Davies
76. The Donnellys – James Reaney
77. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
78. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
79. Farenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
80. Not Wanted on the Voyage – Timothy Findlay
81. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
82. Coraline – Neil Gaiman
83. The Crucible – Arthur Miller
84. Mirror Mirror – Gregory Maguire
85. The Emerging Christian Way – Marcus Borg et al
86. Sorbonne Confidential – Laurel Zuckerman
87. What Happened to Anna K – Irina Reyn
88. The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick
89. Hey Nostradamus! – Douglas Coupland
90. Girlfriend in a Coma – Douglas Coupland
91. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
92. The 5 People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom
93. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
94. Interview with the Vampire – Ann Rice
95. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
96. The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
97. Guys and Dolls – Damon Runyon
98. Good Book – David Plotz
99. He’s Just Not that Into You – Greg Behrendt, Liz Tuccillo, Lauren Monchik
100. Undisputed – Chris Jericho
101. Jesus for the Non-Religious – John Shelby Spong

Davies packs so much into this novel! Much about human nature – the idea that we’re all the stars of our own autobiographies, even if in the grand stage of the world we’re simply ‘Fifth Business’ – or the extra person on stage (the best friend … the confidant … picture Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, for example). The ‘star’ of this book is Dunstan Ramsay, formerly Dunstable, who seems to be a bit player in everyone else’s drama. But he puts a heavy importance on his own life and role – as evidenced by his undying loyalty to Mary Dempster, who was rendered ‘simple’, as they put it, by a blow to the head meant for Dunstable as a boy. Long past the time anyone remembered the incident, or even Mrs. Dempster herself (including the perpetrator of the blow, Dunstan’s longtime frenemy – boys DO that? – Boy Staunton. This shows either Ramsay’s overinflated (or others’ underinflated) sense of his importance in the machinations of life.

Just that is a lot to encompass and incorporate into a novel. But add the other didactic levels it works on – as a tome of Canadian history covering both World Wars, the depression, the unification of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and so much more – as an analysis and discussion of religion (starting with Ramsay’s insistence that Mary Dempster is a saint, leading to his studies of saints generally, and a lot of his connections in the Roman Catholic world) … the ‘coming of age and then some’ aspect of Dunstan growing from 9-year-old-boy to nearly-70-year-old man …

I have to admit with this book I cheated a bit – I had already read it in Senior English almost a dozen years ago. But I don’t think I understood then just how many levels this book works at. It is not only at its core a good story – it touches on almost all of my areas of primary interest, from teaching to history to religion. Davies does this, and does it well. I recommend this book to anyone interested, and look so forward to reading the rest of the Deptford trilogy (not sequels per se – more roughly the same story from different perspectives, filling in gaps and yes, extending a little bit further into the future from where Dunstan Ramsay, as narrator, leaves off) – The Manticore and World of Wonders.

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