The manticore

by Robertson Davies

Book, 1972



Call number


Call number



New York : Penguin Books, 1976, c1972.

Original publication date


Physical description

310 p.; 18 cm

Local notes

Hailed by the Washington Post Book World as "a modern classic," Robertson Davies’s acclaimed Deptford Trilogy is a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven. The Manticore—the second book in the series after Fifth Business—follows David Staunton, a man pleased with his success but haunted by his relationship with his larger-than-life father. As he seeks help through therapy, he encounters a wonderful cast of characters who help connect him to his past and the death of his father.

User reviews

LibraryThing member marfita
While it was interesting to see characters and events from the previous book (The Fifth Business) from a different angle and I was intrigued by the snippets of Jungian analysis, I didn't enjoy this book as much. The ending seemed pointless and heavy-handed at the same time. I would be interested to
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see if Davy takes the case or how he handles Netty in his "new" self. At the same time, I am impressed by the development of a character, pretty much soup-to-nuts. We have his formative memories, his dreams, his conversations with his analyst, all of which seemed pretty convincing to me. Well, except dreams. I always think they're a bit forced.
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LibraryThing member msf59
In the second volume of the acclaimed Deptford Trilogy, we switch narrators, from Dunstan “Boy” Staunton, to his son David. David is a successful lawyer but is a heavy drinker and is emotionally stunted. He travels to Zurich to receive therapy and to deal with his haunted past and the looming
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shadow of his, indomitable father.
David Staunton is a difficult main character and readers may find him cold and reserved, but in Davies, deft and crafty hands, he has created another sharp and inventive narrative. Smart, bold, prose and wonderful, bigger than life characters. Davies has become one of my favorite authors and I am looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
The protagonist, David Staunton, is a successful Canadian criminal lawyer and son of the recently deceased Boy Staunton, a rich and powerful magnate who has died in suspicious circumstances. David has arrived in Zürich, Switzerland shortly after his father's funeral to seek help from a Jungian
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analyst following a nervous breakdown. The novel mostly consists of David's retelling of the course of his analysis, during which he goes over the events of his life from childhood to the present day and also shares some of his dreams, which is where we come across the manticore of the title.

Having had a lifelong interested in psychology, I found this story quite compelling. Although I am by no means a Jungian specialist, it was clear that Davies was very thorough with his research, which made the exchanges between David Staunton and his therapist completely plausible on the one hand, while on the other allowing him to use symbolism to great effect. While the story Staunton tells is filled with amusing incidents and humorous details, I failed to connect with it fully, which was slightly disappointing to me since I am such a fan of Robertson Davies, one of our great Canadian authors and a genius in his own right. However I am glad I read it and feel the story will stay with me and reveal to me various layers of meaning over time, and though I can't say I absolutely loved it, I liked it enough to consider it worth recommending.
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LibraryThing member eas7788
Greatly enjoyed rereading this though not sure why. Premise of plot is character undergoing Jungian analysis, which seems too dull and fraught and philosophical, but it turns into a character study. The last section was weakest because it had the most philosophizing, though it features three great
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characters from the first book. Much is outdated, especially on gender and sex and race (all-white!), but interesting comments on class and the prose is excellent. Don't think I'd reread this one in a long time if ever.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Although this is Book 2 in the Deptford Trilogy I read it last and I think I am glad I did. It's quite a different book from Fifth Business and World of Wonders both in setting and character. It is the story of Boy Staunton's son, David, when he went to a Jungian analyst in Switzerland after Boy
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Staunton's death. Fifth Business was mainly the story of Dunstan Ramsay, childhood friend of Boy Staunton. World of Wonders was the story of Paul Dempster, a child born in Deptford in circumstances involving Dunstan and Boy. So I expected this book to be the life story of Boy Staunton but instead it is his son who takes center stage. Of course, since it is the retelling of his experience in analysis there is quite a bit of discussion of Boy but it is from the point of view of a biased observer.

I recently read a book of Davies' speeches, The Merry Heart, so I knew he was very interested in Jungian psychotherapy. This book makes it pretty clear that Davies knew a lot about the field; in fact, I would have bet that he had undergone Jungian therapy himself but a blog I found online by Robert Moss quotes from a letter by Davies that says "I have never undergone one of those barnacle-scraping experiences, and knew of it only through reading." Having never undergone analysis myself I can't say that everything is portrayed accurately but it certainly seems to have a ring of truth to it.
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LibraryThing member xine2009
Anyone into Jung will love this.
LibraryThing member sageness
Structurally a 2.5, though some of the writing is really well done.

Or, well...okay, I get what RD was doing in terms of thwarting the accepted structure of a bildungsroman, but there's a reason traditional narration is traditional. It WORKS.

At least there are awesome women.
LibraryThing member DavidO1103
Excellent second book in The Deptford Trilogy; excellent narration. This book focuses almost entirely on David Staunton, son of Boy Staunton, as he is a successful criminal defense lawyer in Canada, with much focus on his father's large shadow... Dunster Ramsey plays something of role here, too, as
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do Liesel and Magnus Eisengrim . Much of the story takes place during David's psychoanalysis with the Jungian analyst, Johanna Von Haller.
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Part of Davies' Depford trilogy this book provides us with yet another perspective on things. My favorite is still the first in the series (_Fifth Business_), but all three need to be read in order to truly appreciate Davies' genius.
LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
An intimate character study imbued with Jungian archetypes and symbols. This was an efficient, terse, and forward explanation of a character and, as well, an entirely echelon of society. The dialogue between the psychiatrist and the main character dive deep into what lays beneath the surface of the
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very nature of his being. All in all, this was a great read and a plausible continuation to Davies' previous book, "Fifth Business".

4 stars!
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LibraryThing member Matke
The second volume of Davies’ Deptford Trilogy, this book goes over some familiar events from a completely different viewpoint. The narrator is Boy Stanton’s son. He has a breakdown after Boy’s death and retreats to Switzerland where he undertakes a year of unusual Jungian Analysis.
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and weird.
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LibraryThing member mrgan
I struggled with this one, and I still do. Davies is a masterful writer, but the premise and the story that unfolds from it are both quite strange stuff—strange in a sense that made me fight the book instead of surrendering to it. Much of it is phrased as a patient's session with a psychoanalyst,
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and Davies doesn't make this more interesting than it usually is: half the time is spent debating the merits of the analysis itself, dreams are dissected, the patient falls in love with the doctor, and so on. There are great little moments here, but I guess the chief thing I'm feeling right now is that I'd still gladly recommend the precursor, 'Fifth Business', to anyone, and I wouldn't rush to recommend 'The Manticore'.
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LibraryThing member skavlanj
A Trilogy

The Manticore is the equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back in the Deptford Trilogy, in that it ends without an ending. In fact, it ends with David Staunton, it's protagonist (I don't think we can call him a hero), staring off into the space of the Swiss Alps, pondering what lies in store
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for him in the next book. And, like Empire, the entire book is an examination of David's relationship with his (recently deceased) father who has a Vader complex.

The Manticore is a disappointment, after Fifth Business. Staunton is a prig who has fled his native Canada for Switzerland, where he spends a year in analysis (being a wealthy lawyer, he can jet off at a moment's notice and stay gone an entire year without repercussions). The novel is entirely his story, most of which is pedestrian and mundane. After a short introduction details the events leading to his flight, the novel devolves into an overly-long middle section which grinds through his analysis, followed by a short summation in which Staunton miraculously runs into his father's childhood friend (and the protagonist from the first, more entertaining book in the trilogy) Dunstan Ramsay. The middle section is heavy on intellectual discussion and reminded me of Ayn Rand, only without her horrific, unrealistic dialogue. It covers a lot of the same ground as the first book, only from a different character's perspective - a character infinitely less likable than Ramsay. It has unrealistically long monologues masquerading as conversation. It has remembered dreams which conveniently fit into the stage of analysis Staunton is at.

There are some interesting parts: Staunton's first and only sexual encounter - at seventeen, no less - is arranged by his father as an educational experience. Several of the court cases Staunton handles delve into the seedy side of life. But these parts are overwhelmed by the contrived psychoanalytical sessions.

I worried when only the first book of this trilogy was listed on the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. My concerns were born out.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
Here the trilogy moves to its next narrator as David Staunton, son of the late Boy Staunton, enters into therapy following his father's unusual death. I found the "story told through therapy" approach a bit affected at first - why not a straightforward telling, as with the first novel? - but the
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psychoanalysis portions are fantastic, almost as if Davies were a personal expert in the field; so good, in fact, I may have benefited from it a bit myself. Boy Staunton stands at the centre of this trilogy but David's story is also compelling. He has never learned how to feel. While the reason for this is never plainly stated, I latched onto his declaration that, as a child, he could not love anything that disappointed his father. The conflict in him arose when he realized he was one of those things.

This is not, as most other reviewers point out, as good as the first book. To achieve that, it had to either broaden the world we were introduced to or dig beneath what we've already seen. It doesn't take much of a stab at doing either. Mostly it covers the same ground, and where there's contradiction or blank spots in David's knowledge these always seem resolvable by Ramsay's having known more. The external view of Ramsay is interesting, but it doesn't change his character or make me distrust what I think I already know. I've the odd impression that these first two books would have served each other better if they had been written and published in reverse order. The conclusion moves things forward a bit, but only in service to David's story, and even then it does not have the clean closure of Ramsay's. I love how articulate and insightful Davies' characters are, and that more than anything compels me to read on.
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LibraryThing member jakebornheimer
Probably my third (?) time through? First in a while. One of those books that I spend the whole middle thinking "Hmm, this is ok, 2, maybe 3 stars, at best". Then suddenly the ending pulls everything together so well. Still, I think less of it that I did when I first read it. Maybe it's a side
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effect of having studied psychology for 3-4 years since I last read it. During my first read I really loved the Jungian aspect, and now I have a different view on it. The more I read it, the more Davies I see in every character and turn of phrase. On a whole though, I appreciate the reticence and subtle mysticism with which Davies gives out concrete answers and revelations.
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LibraryThing member shmerica
Extremely enjoyable. As a pscyhology student I took a number of advanced Freud seminars and so greatly appreciate the depiction of the psychoanalysis that is so painstakingly being described. The protagonist is flawed enough to seem human, and much can be gleaned from his choice of words when he is
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describing the people and places of his past. So far, so good.
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LibraryThing member wvlibrarydude
Book 2 in Deptford trilogy. This went from 3 to 4 stars at the end. A character study that helped me reflect on myself. Still thinking about it.


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