©1951 Clark, Irwin & Company, Ltd.; (P)1997 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Davies's characters fascinate, and his gentle, graceful style makes no demands on the reader. His civilized prose should read well aloud - indeed, Davidson helps one hear its strengths. He provides an intelligent, expressive, well-paced rendering of the narrative...as well as vivid impersonations of the characters." (AudioFile)
"An exercise in puckish persiflage." (Toronto Star)
As the first book in Davies' first trilogy, Tempest-Tost sets the stage for what is to come in Salterton, then elsewhere in his world.
I have read all of his novels "in paper", and he is one of my favorite authors. By now I have experienced several in audio. His books were meant to be read aloud, as you would expect of a former actor.
In all of the novels Davies depicts multiple human beings as lively, sympathetic creatures who are trying to get on with life --- though to our delight, they do not generally know what that means. The drawing is less skilled here than in his later works, though he tells an amusing story.
Anyone who has been around amateur theatricals will enjoy the background. Tempest-Tost also introduces us to characters who will come to fuller life in the other parts of the trilogy.
Anyone who wants to spend an entire novel "inside" one person should know upfront that Davies may not be their man. To some extent in this work, and much more in later ones, he gives life and depth to multiple characters --- with a wonderful combination of humor, tragedy, and sympathy. The humanist peeks through here, as does the humorist. But they have yet to become one. The main object of both the humor and the sympathy here, a sad pedant, is too one-dimensional.
To me the book lacks the depth, grace and balance of the later ones. It is a worthy effort. If heard in sequence, you can see how rapidly Davies moved from talented beginner to far more.
If you are trying to pick a book that will help you decide whether or not to read more of Davies, this would not be the best first choice. But if you want a complete picture of his Salterton community it will be well worth your time.
The other reviews here mainly address the book - I'll address the reading. I LOVE this book, as I love most of Robertson Davies' work. As another reviewer mentioned, Davies' work seems made to be read aloud, so I was really looking forward to this - but am constantly distracted by the failings of the reader. He's fine on narration, but really falls apart on characterization - especially for the female characters. Anyone who's read much Davies knows that he sets great store by how things sound; his books contain more than one description of the loveliness of a low, musical woman's voice. But these women are all made to sound like idiots or shrews. The young ones are breathless and giddy; the older ones are, if intelligent, harsh and nasal, and if not, shrill and whiny. The men don't do much better, except those, such as Professor Vambrace, who are already caricatures.
It makes me appreciate all the more the talents of a reader who takes the trouble to understand and embody the characters. This one should stick to essays or history - something without any people.
I've listened to 200 or so audiobooks in the last four years, and very little material has been able to make me laugh out loud the way Tempest-tost did. It has the lightness and wit of P.G. Wodehouse, but with well written characters that you come to care about. David Case, aka Frederick Davidson, Edward Raleigh, James Nelson, and Ian McKay, has come to really grate on my nerves, forcing me to stop listening to audiobooks I had spent good money on and would otherwise have enjoyed. Somehow, though, his style fits this material and doesn't distract from it too much. Highly recommended.
trying to see the world with my ears
This shouldn't be classified under "Historical Fiction" but rather contemporary literature or classical. Davies was writing about his own time - this novel is circa 1950. And it's a lovable and humourous recreation of small university city upper Canadian (Kingston) life of that time, particularly of Canadian culture emerging from British colonialism. Unless you are interested in the latter, the novel is only a fair period piece but told in very sharp prose.
Davidson is one of my favourite narrators, and I'm glad he did this trilogy --but volume 1 not only has minor sound quality glitches but also inconsistencies in accent (plus a too earnest attempt at upper Canadian vowels - maybe they were more authentic for the period, before mass media flattened upper Cdn English.
However, both the sound quality and the narration are better in the remaining two volumes of the trilogy, Leaven of Malice and Mixture of Frailties. Those two are much stronger - 5 star -novels, though I think you'd still need some interest in emerging Cdn culture to thoroughly enjoy them.
I found Robertson Davies because I am a big fan of the reader, Frederick Davidson. What a find! Davies is like a naughty version of Charles Dickens. The best book of his Salterton Trilogy is the third, but the first two are very good, and in order to get maximum enjoyment, it is best to listen to the three books in order. Once you read - or hear - him, you'll be hooked.
Say something about yourself!
I agree with the other reviewers who wrote that this book is the weakest of the 3 in the trilogy. It is. However, it is still worth your time. Davies is a good writer. Here he seems, however, to float along without a strong plot. A Mixture of Frialties, 3rd, in the series was probably the best.
This book had some moments that were delightful, but nothing that I would say "You HAVE to read this!!!!" to a friend. There was nothing offensively bad, but nothing really memorable or exciting about this book for me. I could see how someone would enjoy it, but I was ready for it to end. I didn't really connect with or "like" any of the characters. This book was just OK
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