The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks - Robertson Davies (1985)

Robertson Davies is a favorite author, not without reason as my previous reviews on this site attest, and The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks provide yet another reason why those who read Davies love his work and why those who don't read him should.

The Papers are collected from several separate Marchbanks books spanning decades. The conceit is simple and timeworn: Davies claims he is simply editing the diary entries or essays of a friend, the curmudgeonly Samuel Marchbanks, and this allows him to write the material in the voice of Marchbanks and then comment on it in his own, or, at least, in a voice which uses his own name.

The first part, "The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks," purports to be a year in the life of "a Canadian during one of the early years of the Atomic Age." The entries swerve back and forth madly from politics to small town life to battles with a recalcitrant furnace.

The second part, "The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks," is a series of short topics for discussion at dinner parties arranged by course. This, once again, allows cantankerous digressions on whatever topic comes to mind, with explanation and apologia by Davies.

The third part, "Marchbanks' Garland," is more of the same, but also some (manufactured) epistles. The epistolary novel is a difficult form to carry off effectively, and, by using it as part of the book rather than as the sole structural element, Davies brings it off admirably.

Ultimately this is a lovely collections of literary "small bites," that one can read in dribs and drabs. It's a great bedside book, since the lack of any overarching plot means that one can read just a few pages or paragraphs whenever one has the time. The style is, as always with Davies, smooth and engaging. It is serviceable as an introduction to Davies for novices but is quite rewarding for old hands as well.

Overall Grade: B+

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