Book Review: ‘The Manticore’ Robertson Davies

Posted on September 22, 2010

Quick! Name a Canadian fiction writer! Stumped? Look up. No, at the title of this review. Yes, Robertson Davies is Canadian and a fiction writer. ‘The Manticore‘ is the 2nd book in The Deptford Trilogy, a series of 3 novels centering around the residents of the town of Deptford and the Death of Boy Staunton.

The first book in the series, ‘Fifth Business‘ was a joy. The second, not so much. If you have read any of my previous reviews, would you think that I would be a fan of a story whose central theme was Freudian psychoanalysis? No. I would not be. I most certainly would not. Unfortunately the bulk of this novel was told from the perspective of a man’s conversation with a Swiss psychiatrist. The Swiss are a wonderful people, but they are lackluster in the field of fiction. Seriously, Google ‘Swiss fiction writers’ and see what happens. The rest of the novel is a diary. Swell.

For what it is worth, there is a great deal of myth and father finding, if that is your thing. The ‘plot’ centers around David Staunton, who is dealing with the death of his father, Boy. In a sense it is one detailed biography. I suppose a much more careful reader would be interested in the irony between the character and his tale, but that really didn’t occur to me until I was reaching the end.

Novels are often about the change that a person undergoes during an ordeal. However, there is an adage in the ‘biz’ which is ‘show it, don’t say it’. Meaning, while your character may be thinking something, it is trite for your narrator to tell you what the character is thinking. Instead, think of a way to show this dynamic. But I’m done picking at the thematic elements.

Despite all that I just said, I plowed through this book. Why? The writing is phenomenal. I don’t know why more Canadians aren’t good writers because the cleanliness and pleasant nature of their people certainly shows up in this fiction. While you may be bogged down in Jungian analysis there is that certain something in the way the words are put together that draws you through by the tip of your spine and makes you want to find out who your true father is.

Just goes to show if you are a good writer, you can get someone to read anything. Seriously, there is a cave scene at the end that is a metaphor for rebirth.

If you are looking for a solid pile of fiction, you can do a lot worse than ‘The Deptford Trilogy‘.

The Manticore


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