The Manticore (1972) is the second in the Deptford Trilogy by Canadian writer Robertson Davies (1913-1995), the first being Fifth Business and World of Wonders the third.

Of Davies’ three trilogies, this is my favorite.

I’ll let these folks explain:

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.

In an odd way, this book runs at a tangent to the two massive novels that frame it, Fifth Business and World of Wonders. It is tightly focused on a minor character from the other two novels and does not drive the story forward. At the end of the book the reader is left a bit nonplussed — where is the scope and epic nature from Fifth Business? But the “trilogy” is not intended to be a serial. This becomes clear upon completion of the three. This book serves to deepen the reader’s appreciation for the themes expressed in Fifth Business and which culminate, if a theme can culminate, in World of Wonders. The reader who pays attention (a pleasant requirement for Davies’s greatest novels) finds himself engrossed in a sad, exhuberant, and contradictory life, and also gains some clues about the other two novels. This book could really stand alone, outside of the “trilogy”. Mr. Davies was not a slave to convention (although he certainly understood convention both theatrical and novelistic) and would have found the task of a serial across three books both frustrating and pointless. None of his three (not four, thanks to Father Time) “trilogies” are serials: they simply explore similar themes and share a few characters and — important to Davies as playwright and keen fan of poetry — setting and atmosphere.

The title refers to elements of the subconscious which unfold through the story and are eventually manifested as a fantastic mythical creature: a manticore, a beast with the body of a lion, a human head with three rows of sharp teeth and the tail of a dragon.

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