County Life: Getting Down to Fifth Business

fifth businessBessie’s Books and Other Things

Last month Erin told you about the book that won Haliburton County Reads-the summer sessions and then was chosen for our One Book, One Community (OBOC) selection.  That book is Fifth Business by Robertson Davies.

Fifth Business presents us with some interesting challenges.  Usually when a library runs an OBOC program, they invite the author of the book to participate in events; this will be difficult for us as Mr. Davies died in 1995.  Another challenge is that Fifth Business has had a permanent place in the high school curriculum since the early eighties, so sometimes there is the “I had to read it for school” association rather than “I read it for fun”.  This is certainly the case for me, but I just re-read it for fun and I’m glad I did.  Reading for fun offers a whole new perspective and although this book was written in 1970 it does stand the test of time.

Erin has isolated six main themes in Fifth Business that I agree are bang on.  The six themes are “Small Town Gothic” which is defined as novels about small towns that focus on the dark, surreal, and grotesque elements of rural living; “Fateful events” are novels that pivot around one life changing incident; “New Identities” are novels where characters grapple with their identity, or assume a new identity; “Saints and sinners” are novels that examine the good and bad in all of us.  “Running away with the circus” consists of novels that feature magic, magicians, and the lure of the circus; and finally the “School of Robertson Davies” which are novels by authors who have been influenced by or compared to Robertson Davies.  If you don’t want to read or re-read Fifth Business try some of these other choices.

These themes are captured and displayed on what is known as a reading map and the map is available at the library and there is a One Book, One Community button on our website.

For September, HCPL’s Online Book Club on Goodreads is concentrating on the theme “Running Away with the Circus.”

The four titles from this category are Geek Love by Katherine Dunn which is about a carny family who breed their own human oddities and perform in the backwaters of the United States;  All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer introduces us to Bo who is recruited as a bear wrestler, but when his sister is taken away by a freak show he must search for her; Son of the Circus by John Irving features  a group of misfits that are drawn together by a murder that happened twenty years ago; and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin stars Mrs. Tom Thumb who tells her own story and that of her famous husband.

Anyone can join our online book club. Just go to and click on the “g” for Goodreads. Pick up the complete reading map for Fifth Business at any branch of the library or access it from our website by clicking on the One Book One Community button.  The whole point of an OBOC campaign is to interest everyone in reading, this is not school, there is no pressure, no deadlines, and no book reports required, just read and tell us that you did.

*Originally published in County Life on September 17, 2015.


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