Davies, Robertson 1913–
Davies is a highly-regarded Canadian novelist. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36.)
It is a secure kind of pleasure to begin a novel by Canadian Writer Robertson Davies. This is not because the reader knows what will happen—Davies does not write formula fiction—but because he is serenely sure of what will not happen. The author will not hunt snarks, nor plant a forest of symbols and then get lost in it. Nor will he fail to have some rather compelling reason to write rather than remain silent….
[Davies'] fiction resembles the work of such writers as Louis Auchincloss, James Gould Cozzens and C. P. Snow, in that—whatever the theme—in the telling, reason's rule is absolute. This can be a chilly virtue as well as a limiting one, but the limits are generous in Davies' case. His perceptions are wry and tough.
John Skow, "Solitary Voyage," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © 1971 by Time Inc.), January 11, 1971, p. 72.
[The Manticore], being a segment of a kind of saga [in which the first novel was The Fifth Business, 1970], is not quite an entity, but refers backward to earlier work and hints broadly at what will probably come next…. Questions about events are raised but left hanging, which is Mr. Davies's way. He is clearly developing a shelf of interlocking books the way Faulkner did with the Compsons and Snopses and Salinger did with the Glass family; and he is telling us: Love me, love my shelf.
And we more or less do. He is a highly literate, intelligent man with a mystical and melodramatic imagination, and he conveys a sense of real life lived in a fully imagined if sometimes mythical and magical world. Realists will probably be put off, but then they never even liked Jung.
William Kennedy, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 19, 1972, pp. 4, 26.
The Novel House is empty. Its tenants have wandered out witlessly into Barthian byways, through Borgesian mazes, to squat, disconsolate, at Beckett's crossroads, waiting for some faceless God. Send for the wreckers. Tear the old mansion down.
But, wait. Someone is still there. A stately, bearded figure tramps through the rooms, righting dusty furniture, securing casement windows. He is Robertson Davies, a Canadian, a former actor, master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, author of six plays, seven books of criticism and five novels [the most recent of which is The Manticore, 1972]. He will rescue the old house. He is true to the old way….
For Davies, like a living, breathing Victorian, chooses to show us his world, English Canadian Ontario, anno domini 1970, through the melodramatic conventions, Dickensian coincidences and the conscious striving for "instruction" and "significance" which we associate with Disraeli or Mrs. Humphry Ward. It is a closed world, a dichotomous one, dazzled by British titles, ape for provincial honors and yet, ultimately, one where wealth alone is certain good….
So the old Novel House stands. It has a custodian. Perhaps Robertson Davies can bring the customers pouring back into the lending libraries and eventually fill the House with his emulators. If not, at least he has dared to go back inside, all the way up to the room at the top of the stairs. His is now, as he once described it, a voice from the Canadian attic.
Brian Moore, "There's Life in the Old Novel House," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), November 26, 1972, p. 8.