You will encounter more than one conjurer in Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, and one of them is Davies himself. His novel unfolds before your very eyes in ways that are delightful, mysterious, and scarcely to be believed. The title comes from a stock character in opera and theater. The fifth business is not the main plot, yet is still necessary for the main plot to work, and its carrier is neither hero nor villain, but is nevertheless essential to the story.
In the world of Fifth Business every character has his part to play, and in classic Daviesesque fashion, those parts are inscrutably rooted in our ancient mythical past. But the story is no allegory. Davies’s characters are believable people and you grow to love them and hate them over the course of the book.
I don’t want to give too much away, but the story starts on a snowy Christmas day in the remote Canadian village of Deptford with the throwing of a snowball, an act which sets in motion a strange and outrageous series of events which span five decades and three continents. Davies is by turns hilarious, learned, disturbing, and compassionate. If you slow down and give it a chance, Fifth Business will leave you not quite the same reader, or perhaps even person that you were when you started it.