Thursday, 8 September 2011

Who killed Boy Staunton?

The Manticore (1972) by Robertson Davies is the second book of the Deptford Trilogy. It begins where Fifth Business left off, with the mysterious death of Percy Boy Staunton.

Boy’s son David, a Canadian lawyer in his forties, attempts to come to terms with his father’s death by going to Switzerland and engaging in an intensive program of Jungian analysis. In therapy with Dr Von Haller, David describes his unhappy life from childhood to the present as he tries to reconcile his feelings for his larger-than-life father.

Robertson Davies’ humour is evident in this novel - the description of his father’s death mark and in the relationship between David and his sister Caroline – are outright hilarious. But the novel feels much bleaker with the Jungian analysis allowing for exploration of David’s repressed Shadow self.

David’s therapy sessions are the basis of the novel – in the form of his diaries interspersed with dialogue between David and Dr Von Haller. His dreams of the mythical manticore (a beast with the head of a man, body of a lion and tail of a scorpion) and other archetypes are analysed. Readers with a keen interest in psychology will enjoy the theory and perhaps have a deeper engagement with the book.

Along the way David gives his perspective on events that appeared in Fifth Business from Dunstan Ramsey’s point of view. Where the two novels dovetail is a particular delight and demonstrate the genius of Robertson Davies’ ability to depict the layers of complexity in human relationships.

After a year of therapy, David encounters Dunstan Ramsey, Magnus Eisengrim and their companion Liesl in Switzerland and spends the Christmas holidays with the trip in a gothic mansion. David learns more of his father from them but becomes more perplexed about the identity of his father’s killer.

While the ending of the novel is open, the third book World of Wonders (1975) promises to add more depth to the tale of the three boys from Deptford with intertwined lived.

I enjoyed this book but not to the same extent as Fifth Business (I missed Ramsey). In many ways The Manticore feels like a bridge in the trilogy, an awkward middle child. But I look forward to reading World of Wonders (1975) to round out the series. 

See also: 
My review of  Fifth Business (1970)