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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Ed McDonald, Ravencry (2018)

Ravencry

Author: Ed McDonald

Title: Ravencry

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 414

In preparation for the upcoming conclusion to McDonald’s trilogy, Crowfall, I decided it was high time to share my thoughts about Ravencry, which I read back in February, right after I finished Blackwing. Talk about procrastination 😉

While Blackwing was a powerful new entry into gritty military fantasy, well-written, riveting and – what’s quite astounding – a debut, Ravencry was even better. With the world and main characters already established, McDonald focused more on character development and intrigue, introducing a much better fleshed-out – and truly creepy – villain, believable motivations, and delightfully raised stakes. All in all he succeeded in smoothing the rough edges of his original creation while keeping all the grimness, bravado and rakish charm I appreciated in Blackwing.

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Nostalgia post #5: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

Piotrek: The fifth one, huh? Well, this time we have a real treasure. We debated for a while, if it can be counted as one of the Nostalgia Posts, and decided that yes, why not? After all, we’ve been reading Pratchett most of our lives, and we feel pretty nostalgic about both the author and his works. Well, one difference between that and all the others – there isn’t a large gap between our first childhood encounters with Sir Terry and recent re-reads. Me, at least, I would read a Discworld novel or two at least every once in a few years.

My Pratchet set

Pratchett books on my shelves

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An excursion into non-fiction #2: Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011)

Author: Yuval Noah HarariIMG_20181211_210646

Title: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Edition: Vintage Books, Paperback

Pages: 498

Piotrek: Ambitious title for a 500 pages book, ain’t it? This young (born 1976) and charismatic Israeli historian – and his is a professional historian, with his DPhil thesis titled History and I : war and the relations between history and personal identity in Renaissance military memoirs, c.1450-1600. written in Oxford – aims to catch the essence of our history, as a species, in one tome. The result is certainly very successful, since 2011 published in multiple languages and its author became a public intellectual with TED Talks and countless interviews available on Youtube and elsewhere. We are here to judge if the world is right 😉

Ola: Oh well, there’s nothing like a catchy beginning, is there? 😛 But on a more serious note, Harari’s ambitions were huge, and a bit of hubris was, I guess, unavoidable – especially if you want to market a de facto historical book to a wide, mostly lay, public. Harari’s book, however, deserves its hype, for it’s written in a flowing, precise style, and delivers an abundance of catchy, well devised examples to better explain the more abstract concepts.

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Kler / Clergy (2018)

There is now a Polish movie being played in cinemas, in my country and throughout Europe. There are over 200 screenings planned in the UK alone (beginning today!), and that’s a lot for a Polish movie, our pictures rarely go beyond niche festivals. Tickets are mostly bought out by my compatriots living abroad, but they are not its whole audience.

Why? 7856555.6

Well, the title is Kler (our word for ‘the clergy’). Specifically, in the Polish context, the catholic clergy. Catholicism is the default option here. Not just as a religion. To a large extent, especially outside large cities, it’s the foundation of social life and a powerful political and economic force.

In the days when diocese after diocese goes bankrupt trying to pay off the victims of their functionaries’ abuse and, in Chile, the entire bishopry episcopate submits resignations, there are not enough movies about the issue. Spotlight was very good, and certainly educational, Calvary show how a catholic country might look after the problem is largely processed. Clergy is about Church militant, unapologetic and intertwined with the state as close, as the Irish one during the heights of its power.

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Tim Powers, Declare (2001)

declare_1

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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An excursion into non-fiction #1: Frans de Waal, The Bonobo and the Atheist (2013)

Some time ago, inspired by Bart from one of our favorite blogs, Weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it, we decided to start including some non-fiction on Re-enchantment. While the initial idea was to go for books that provide wider context for popular genre fiction, ultimately we decided to start with one that provides some insight into the very human nature, by exploring the social nature of other primates. Frans de Waal, world-famous (there’s even a TED 😉 ) Dutch-American primatologist, is on Bart’s list with several of his books, we’ve both read The Bonobo and the Atheist recently, and it was a thought-provoking experience, although it provoked slightly different thought in each of us.

Author: Frans de Waal

Title: The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates

Pages: 289

Format: Paperback

bonoboIn search of Humanism Among the Primates de Waal looks not only into the militant chimpanzees, but also the famously peaceful bonobo. Lifetime of research, combined with his private interest in art and philosophy, guide this journey to discover the origin of our species’ morality – and spirituality – in the societal structures and the psychological and social makeup of our closest animal relatives. If all the primates share not only social nature, but also empathy, it was arguably also present in our common ancestors, and our nature is not as rotten as some of us were convinced since childhood. Moreover, he provides us with ample examples of other species showing self-awareness and kindness previously attributed only to humans, and if on decidedly smaller levels, it’s a matter of degree.

Empathy requires awareness of the other and sensitivity to the other’s needs. It probably started with parental care, like that found in the mammals, but there is also evidence for bird empathy. […] If both birds and mammals have some measure of empathy, that capacity probably goes back to their reptilian ancestors.

He does it skilfully, being not only an incredibly skilled and competent scientist (as his resume informs us), but also a gifted storyteller. Consequently, The Bonobo and the Atheist is a great book for both a casual and a scientifically-inclined reader; in addition to its atheism-related theses, already mentioned in the title, it gives us valuable insight into the current state of research of other primates’ social nature.

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