Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review: The Manticore – Robertson Davies

In Fifth Business, the first volume of The Deptford Trilogy we learned the story of Boy Staunton, obnoxious youth who became the foremost tycoon in second world-war Canada before dying mysteriously in an apparent suicide.

In this second volume, The Manticore, attention shifts to his son David Staunton. The story opens in Zürich where David Staunton is starting a course of psychotherapy following the death of his father. He believes he is going mad.

As the therapy progresses we examine in detail Staunton’s relationship with his mother and step-mother, his sister Caroline, nurse Netty, schoolmaster Dunstan Ramsay (the narrator of Fifth Business), David’s first girlfriend Judy and centrally Boy Staunton himself. It rapidly becomes clear to the reader that David Staunton has been psychologically overwhelmed by his dominant father. In a classic love-hate relationship David has judged everyone else through the distorting lens of his own idolised view of his father while simultaneously trying to distance himself in his own life and career.

As the narrative advances through a recapitulation of David Staunton’s biography we see him gradually re-evaluating his relationships under the skilful hand of his therapist. In fact this book is a wonderful advertisement for the Jungian approach. In a final escapade in the Swiss mountains (in the reunited company of Dunstan Ramsay, Liesl Vitzliputzli and Magnus Eisengrim) David undergoes a symbolic “rebirthing”: we leave confident that he can progress the rest of his life developing his new-found maturity.

I am now looking forwards to the final volume, World of Wonders, where we learn more about the magician Magnus Eisengrim.

A Manticore, by the way, is a mythical being with the face of a man, the body of a lion and a stinging tail. It is the image David Staunton’s unconscious chooses for himself.