Robertson Davies, Fifth Business (1970)

Fifth Business

Author: Robertson Davies

Title: Fifth Business

Format: Paperback

Pages: 257

I have become aware of the existence of Robertson Davies and his books solely through the glowing review by Chris from Calmgrove – and I’d like to thank him, because reading Fifth Business was an experience I absolutely wouldn’t want to have missed. As we’re in the middle of Robertson Davies Reading Week organized by Lory over at Emerald City Book Review to commemorate the author’s 106th birthday on 28th August, I thought I’d join the effort and put out there my review as well – for the work of Robertson Davies indeed deserves wide appreciation. And while I endeavor to write a proper review of the novel, be prepared: it will be pervadingly whimsical, tangential and digressive, thus reflecting the very nature of Fifth Business.

First, however, the title. Fifth Business, in the words of the author, refers to

“Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the dénouement” Hence, “the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business”.

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Robert Holdstock, The Fetch (1991)

Author: Robert Holdstock

Title: The Fetch

Edition: Warner Books, Paperback

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Pages: 376

Robert Holdstock was a distinguished British writer whom I already reviewed once. His Mythago Woods is a great, if a bit rough, journey through the world of Celtic – and earlier – myths connected in a very real way to a modern (well, post-II WW anyway) world. Mythago… is a first part of the Ryhope Woods cycle, whereas The Fetch is a stand-alone novel, but we stay in the general area of myths, archetypes, and British countryside. But while the previous one was scary at times, Fetch could well be called a horror story. I could see it being adapted to the big screen (or Netlix 😉 ) as a classical horror with an Omen vibe (without Christian references).

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Tim Powers, Declare (2001)

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Author: Tim Powers

Title: Declare

Pages: 517

Format: Hardcover

Thy story is a marvelous one! If it were graven with needles on the corners of the eye, it would serve as a warning to those that can profit by example.

A Cold War era spy thriller/horror/love story, centered around the life of the infamous Soviet spy Kim Philby, where French, American, British and Soviet secret services are viciously fighting for access to a supernatural power – djinn, or nephilim, or fallen angles, residing in remote wildness of Arabian deserts. And the famous Mount Ararat. So, in short, if you want to know why USSR fell in 1991, read Declare ;).

Tim Powers did it again. He found a nexus of happenstance, coincidence, inexplicable historical facts, and, diligently digging around through archives and his own subconscious, created an improbable, but inherently logical explanation to it all. One that involves Thousand Nights and One Night, T.E Lawrence, British Secret Service, Mount Ararat and Dead Sea scrolls, as well as baptism in Jordan River, a disgraced nun, an inhabited fox, the vagaries of Heaviside Layer and a colony of djinn.

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Fenrir & Tyr

The friendship between Fenrir and Tyr, the Norse god of war, has always inspired me – to its very end, when their mutual loyalty forbade them to fight against each other even during Ragnarok. Here’s an aquarelle pencil drawing of the pair – and you can wonder whether Tyr still has his right arm! 😉

Tyr i Fenrir

Fenrir & Tyr © A. Gruszczyk

Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology (2017)

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This year, before American Gods hit the TVs as probably one of the most anticipated series of the year, the readers were treated to a new Gaiman’s book. At least things look like this if you judge the book by the cover 😉 But Gaiman’s name on the front page is more than a bit misleading – because he’s in no way the author of the collected myths; he himself presents his role in the introduction as that of a humble narrator, a storyteller refreshing ancient and beloved tales. I guess that his name on the cover serves as a selling device – and probably serves quite well. But even though I can understand this approach from a mercantile point of view, it still smacks of hubris to me. How can one present oneself as an author of mythology? That is a minor point, though – if this way more people will learn of Norse myths, I will only applaud and cheer.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t start with the cover. The English version of the cover, presented above, is IMO simply beautiful. A detailed rendering of Thor’s hammer, gold and grey on dark background, accompanied by simple, elegant lettering that in no way distracts from the graphics – what’s not to admire? It’s just perfect. I only wish Polish version were the same… Alas, you can’t always get what you wish for, and in most cases that’s a good thing 😉

As for what’s inside – it’s Norse mythology and no mistake. Gaiman openly states in the introduction that he’s just retelling the old myths, giving them simpler, more digestible form suitable for modern readers who are not necessarily mythology buffs. There is nothing new or unusual in there – for those who know Norse mythology. Those who got acquainted with Nordic myths through Marvel comics or movies might be in for a surprise ;).

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