Written by Robertson Davies, Fifth Business is one of the Canadian modern classics. Honestly, I had absolutely no idea what this book was about before I read it, which was the allure. In the age of constant teasers, trailers, spoilers, facebook, twitter, etc, it’s really hard to find something that you know nothing about before going into it. I love when I know nothing about the book/movie/show, hence…Fifth Business.
From the front of the book:
Fifth Business … Definition
Those roles which, being neither those of
Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain,
but which were none the less essential to
bring about the Recognition or the denouement
were called Fifth Business in drama
and opera companies organized according
to the old style; the player who acted these
parts was often referred to as Fifth Business.
-Tho. Overskou, Den Danske Skueplads
The book begins with the definition above, describing and setting up for you the title and tone of the book. The story is written in the first person, narrated by Dunstable Ramsay, in the style of Ramsay writing a letter to the headmaster of a school for boys (in which Ramsay teaches). Ramsay is lamenting to the headmaster over Ramsay’s recent retirement, and how the school paper covered it. Ramsay wishes to convey to the headmaster his story from the beginning, hoping to shed new light on the person Ramsay has become.
Ramsay grew up in small town in Southern Ontario, Deptford, and is haunted with guilt by an event that happened early in his life. One night coming home, Ramsay and his counter-part Boy Staunton were having a tiff. Staunton decided to throw a snowball at Ramsay that had a rock inside it. Ramsay dodged the snowball but it hit a pregnant women named Mary Dempster, who then went into early labour. This even plagues Ramsay for most of his life, and guides most of the decisions he makes.
I found Fifth Business to be similar in allure to reading Catcher in the Rye. It is a piece of prose that so beautifully captures the inner workings of a person’s mind. I highly recommend reading it!
Fifth Business is the first installment of a trilogy known as the Deptford Trilogy.