Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews

Oct 25, 2010

Fifth Business, Robertson Davies

I should now point out that I have my own, completely bad novel.  Or, for greater accuracy, I have two chapters of a novel, which I cheerily rewrite on a biannual basis, and then step back to look at, as though it will magically have become a good novel as a result of returning to first-person from third-person from first-person for the ninetieth time.

This is all relevant to "Fifth Business," to the extent that my novel tries really really hard to attract the litigious wing of the late Robertson Davies’ family by sounding exactly like it.

How bad is it?   Well, to be fair, “Fifth Business” is in "The Deptford Trilogy," and it is technically "The Salterton Trilogy" which is actually set in my (thinly-veiled) hometown.  Much like my own novel.  Otherwise, we’re talking pedantic Anglo-Canadian middle-aged narrators, obvious plot twists, everything.

I polished the aforementioned two chapters nicely enough to gain admittance to a vicious writing seminar with Zadie Smith as an undergrad (vicious in that we all wanted in, and then I got in, and then was almost certainly loathed by everyone once they realized, ‘ohhhh, do we have to read that same “Fifth Business” bullshit of hers AGAIN?”).  Also vicious in that she was pretty mean to all of us, and actually moved her return flight up a few days to purposely miss our last class.  I’m not trash-talking her, though, we were all mostly mean.  Ali Sethi got a book out of it, though, bless him.

I haven’t even re-read “Fifth Business” in a handful of years, and am terrified that it, too, appears to be lazy and self-indulgent and pedantic when read not for, Jesus, Grade 13 English.

But, um, as far as I know, “Fifth Business” is still magical and delightful and you should read it and then write two chapters of a bad novel that sound like it.