Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: The Salterton Trilogy

"Canada expects nothing from her writers. But what may Canada expect from her writers? She may reasonably expect what other countries get from a national literature. First a sense of national character. Second, vigilance on behalf of intellectual freedom and moral vigor. Last, we may expect a true depiction of the essence of what our life in Canada is.” --Robertson Davies in Paris Review, The Art of Fiction #107

The Salterton TrilogyThe Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Salterton Trilogy includes Tempest-Tost (1951), Leaven of Malice (1954), and A Mixture of Frailties (1958). This was Davies' first set of novels. The stories all begin in the fictional Canadian city of Salterton and two young people, Solly Bridgetower and Pearl Veronica Vambrace, provide a connecting thread of sorts between the books. Tempest-Tost focuses on a community theater troupe, Leaven of Malice on a newspaper, and A Mixture of Frailties on a young singer, but really they are all three about how people live their lives and what compells them to make the choices they do. They are full of odd bits of social commentary.

"He had allowed his daughters to use his library without restraint, and nothing is more fatal to maidenly delicacy of speech than the run of a good library." (p. 33)

Davies' novels are beautifully structured, moving seamlessly among the households (and thoughts) of Salterton's various residents. His observations on people's behavior are both spot-on and often very funny.

"Well allow me to introduce myself to you as an advocate of Ornamental Knowledge. You like the mind to be a neat machine, equipped to work efficiently, if narrowly, and with no extra bits or useless parts. I like the mind to be a dustbin of scraps of brilliant fabric, odd gems, worthless but fascinating curiosities, tinsel, quaint bits of carving, and a reasonable amount of healthy dirt. Shake the machine and it goes out of order; shake the dustbin and it adjusts itself beautifully to its new position." (p. 158)

This is the third of the Davies' trilogies I have read and it was as good as the others. I wish there were more to read. If you haven't read these novels yet you are in for a treat.

This book counts toward the Canadian Book Challenge 6 and the Tea and Books Challenge.

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