The Manticore by Robertson Davies

The son of a wealthy industrialist enters Jungian therapy to discover why he feels that his life is at a point of crisis.

In The Manticore, Robertson Davies continues the story he began in his masterful Fifth Business, turning his acute eye for the majesty of the quotidian on David, the son of Boy Staunton, a prominent figure in the first book. David feels himself to be a stunted man, and hopes that rigorous Jungian psychoanalysis will yield revelations enabling him to shake off the burden of his family’s history and the pain of his father’s recent death.

Boy Staunton was found drowned in his car with a rock in his mouth. Later, his corpse was disfigured by his second wife as she attempted to make a death mask. David hasn’t been with a woman since he was 18, and he drinks every day. Somehow these are connected to his ambivalence over calling himself his father’s son.

The Manticore employs a structure that I’ve said before I don’t care for–that of the dialogue between analyst and patient. It feels dated, a product of the dusty middle of the 20th Century, as well as a contrivance that takes the place of a real plot. I didn’t feel any urgency in reading this book, nothing story-wise to keep me turning the pages. Only Davies’s masterful eye for characterization and his marvelous prose kept me reading. I just can’t invest in therapy as a force for drama.

I’m sort of tickled that this post follows one named after another mythical creature. It probably wasn’t the best choice for proving that I’m off fantasy for awhile, either, since Robertson Davies isn’t exactly a household name (unjustly so).

4 thoughts on “The Manticore by Robertson Davies”

  1. The patient/therapist setup didn’t bother me, probably because it’s the only book I’ve ever read that uses it. The Manticore is probably my least favourite of the trilogy, but I did like it a lot (I think I was hooked when she put the stone in her mouth—I found that scene both hilarious and mildly macabre.)

    I’m eager to read your thoughts about World of Wonders! And you’re right that Davies ought to be a household name; Fifth Business is one of my favourite books, and one of only two books that my best friend and I both love.

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