The Cunning Man
This novel of a doctor's life shows Robertson Davies at his elegant and entertaining best. "'Never neglect the charms of narrative for the human heart,' said Mr. Ramsay." And we are back at Colborne College listening to the history teacher Dunstan Ramsay, the narrator ofFifth Business. In his audience are three close friends, boys whose lives will closely intertwine: Brocky Gilmartin, who will become a distinguished Professor of English at Waverly University; Charlie Iredale, destined to become an Anglican priest; and our narrator, Jonathon Hullah, soon to be a medical man. "I am an observer," says Dr. Hullah; like his predecessor inFifth Businesshe has gone through a rich life always slightly on the outside, watching, noticing. His power of observation is the quality that makes him an extraordinary doctor. Known as "The Cunning Man," he enjoys fame as a diagnostician that attracts even the Governor General, who comes to him with a very personal problem. His skill also makes him a perceptive storyteller and a shrewd chronicler of what he calls "flat-footed, hard-breathing, high-aspiring Toronto." Jonathon Hullah has watched the growth of the city over a lifetime; first as a boy from Northern Ontario at Colborne College, then as an undergraduate, then as a medical student at the University who falls in love both with the stage and with the lovely Nuala Conor. Away on war service in Europe he loses Nuala to his best friend, but returns to the city with a greater desire to settle down and become a doctor with a practice rooted in somewhat unconventional medical beliefs. When he does, he finds himself thrown into contact with "the Ladies" -- the two English artists who establish an artistic salon which everyone attends. He also finds himself thrown into the high drama of the feuds at St Aidan's Anglican Church, which involve his school friend Charlie Iredale, and which culminate in a very suspicious death at the altar. In the course of Dr. Hullah's extended memoir, we encounter at least one miraculous cure, and one well-publicised mirac≤ a Bad Breath Contest of Olympian standards; tales of cannibals and of Tsarist bordellos; an extended visit to Salterton; life in the Canadian army in the Second World War; horror in the London Blitz, a row in the dining room of the York Club; the murder of Dr. Hullah's godson, Conor Gilmartin; medical solutions to several literary mysteries; and much insight into theatre, art and music (including Miss Annie McGruder's very own composition "Let me call you Jesus"), not to mention the secrets of a doctor's consulting room. This novel allows Robertson Davies to display his wit (school, he tells us, is "a form of jail with educational opportunities") and his wisdom in a novel which, of course, never neglects the charm of narrative for the human heart.
Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, c1994
Branch Call Number:
FIC Davie 05ad 01