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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Such a relief to get back to reading the Deptford trilogy

I don't want to sound like a Phlistine but it's an incredible relief to move from the artsy and pretensions Booker-winning John Berger novel, G. (how do they determine those awards? On merit, obviously... ) and go back to Robertson Davies's Deptford trilogy, picking up w/ volume 2, The Manticore (I know, another ridiculous title - somebody should have helped this guy). No, Davies is not Dostoyevsky or Proust, but his interest in developing plot and character and presenting his story in clear, lucid prose is like a welcome oasis - all the more so in that he's never condescending to his readers, he's full of thoughts and ideas (and obsessions - one of his weaknesses, at least in volume one, was his fixation on magic and on circus entertainment - what's that all about?). The Manticore, first section, Why I Came to Zurich, is almost entirely built upon the dialogue, monologue mostly so far, of a partient speaking w/ his (Jungian) psychiatrist. That's a convenient narrative device, and a familiar one (viz. Portnoy's Complaint e.g.) but Davies holds his end of the bargain up well, not burying us in back story but moving along with a good murder mystery: Who killed Boy Staunton? Volume 1 ended w/ Boy dead and the protagonist, Dunny, privy to some of the details of the death. This volume so far centers on Boy's son, who was peripheral in volume 1: He is a successful lawyer, never married (and quite insistent that he's not homosexual), suffering from living in the shadow of his famous father and, in particular, of never measuring up to his father's (unreasonable) expectations. To him, Boy's death is a complete mystery - and we learn that he was the one who shouted out in a crowded theater during a magic show: Who killed Boy Staunton? Unable to solve that mystery, and getting deeper into alcoholism, he goes to Zurich in search of an analyst who might help him figure out the cause of this depression. A reluctant patient at first, he opens up gradually and the story comes to life. Obviously this narrative device will not carry the whole novel - but Davies uses the analytic sessions to get this volume off the ground.

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