Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

He had another delusion of the political novice: he was going to apply ‘sound business principles’ to government and thereby give it a fine new gloss.

But even Calvinism can be endured, if you will make some compromise with yourself. But you – there is a whole great piece of your life that is unlived, denied, set aside. That is why at fifty you can’t bear it any longer and fly all to pieces and pour out your heart to the first really intelligent woman you have met and get into a schoolboy yearning for a girl who is as far from you as if she lived on the moon. This is the revenge of the unlived life, Ramsay. Suddenly it makes a fool of you.


I bought this at the library’s used book shop for the usual $1 because I had heard of Robertson Davies as a famous Canadian author (not quite the same as a famous author, one has to admit). This book was well worth the loonie for making me more well read in Canadiana; it was full of sweet and slightly magical prose about small towns and wars and growing older. I’m confused about the publisher’s ad in the back that says this is the start of a trilogy about how Boy Staunton died, because I thought we got the answer to that at the end of this book. I’m satisfied enough with what I already know that I have no desire to read the other two books, and although I’m glad I read this one I don’t expect to pick it up again.



Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man’s land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those around him. His apparently innocent involvement in such innocuous events as the throwing of a snowball or the teaching of card tricks to a small boy in the end prove neither innocent nor innocuous.