As an extra bonus at the close of this year’s Robertson Davies Reading Weekend, I received a very nice email from a Davies fan who was unable to post a review on his own blog because he doesn’t have one. I offered to put it up as a guest post, and he kindly agreed. So thanks to Trevor Murphy for extending our weekend celebration, and enjoy!
The Manticore: A Guest Post by Trevor Murphy
The Manticore, the second novel in the Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies, was published in 1972 and won the Governor-General’s Literary Award in the English language fiction for that year.
The story plumbs the experiences and emotions of David Staunton, the son of Percy “Boy” Staunton, whose mysterious death propels much of the action in the Deptford Trilogy. Recovering from grief over his father’s death in Fifth Business (the first book in the Deptford Trilogy), David heads to Zurich for Jungian psychoanalysis. The story charts David’s insights using his first-person narration and transcripts of the therapeutic sessions.
It’s interesting Davies focuses so closely on this character for the middle novel in the Deptford Trilogy. David made only a brief appearance in Fifth Business as a successful barrister and “a drunk.” David is virtually absent from World of Wonders, the final book in the trilogy. Even in The Manticore, David’s interaction with the trilogy protagonists occupies only a portion of the story incited by a chance encounter.
Additionally, considering the book from the perspective of 2020 makes sympathy for David Staunton questionable. Should we spend a significant amount of time rooting for a protagonist born into privilege, unashamed of being wealthy himself (he earns more than CAD 600,000 a year adjusted for inflation), and is an addict?
The answer is ‘yes’ for readers who want to engage in Davies’ full exploration of the intersection of magic and the everyday. The novel successfully takes the reader into the trilogy’s central issue: the interplay of magic and the contemporary world. Unlike the books in Davies’ Cornish Trilogy, which consider the metaphysical in the context of university scholars reasonably comfortable with medieval magical thinking, The Manticore juxtaposes the otherworldly with twentieth-century psychotherapy. The exploration of magic in a world of science continues in Davies’ The Cunning Man (also reviewed as part of the 2020 Robertson Davies Reading Weekend), which considers the supernatural quality of art investigated by a medical doctor.
It’s true that The Manticore does not feature Davies’ most memorable protagonist. Additionally, in a rather shocking offense to a devoted reader of Davies, the ending of The Manticore employs a technique that was better used by Davies to conclude A Mixture of Frailties, the final novel of a separate Davies trilogy. With all that, The Manticore provides an engaging narrative and delivers the richness of detail and alternate perspectives within the world of his creation that make Davies a unique artist. The Manticore is most rewarding when considered as a part of the author’s canon than on its own merits, but it stands as a worthy component of the writer’s work.
Trevor Murphy is a reader and marketing professional who lives in LA with his wife, audiobook narrator Emily Eiden, and their children.