The Cunning Man

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Penguin Books, Feb 1, 1996 - Fiction - 469 pages
20 Reviews
"Should I have taken the false teeth?" This is what Dr. Jonathan Hullah, a former police surgeon, thinks after he watches Father Hobbes die in front of the High Altar at Toronto's St. Aidan's on the morning of Good Friday. How did the good father die? We do not learn the answer until the last pages of this "Case Book" of a man's rich and highly observant life. But we learn much more about many things, and especially about Dr. Hullah. From an early age, Jonathan Hullah developed "a high degree of cunning" in concealing what his true nature might be. And so he kept himself on the outside, watching, noticing, and sniffing, most often in the company of those who bore watching. Among them, flamboyant, mystical curate Charlie Iredale; outrageous banker Darcy Dwyer; cynical, quixotic professor Brocky Gilmartin, whose son Conor, also Hullah's godson, makes a fateful and too brief appearance in Robertson Davies's last novel, Murther & Walking Spirits. Hullah also lives in close proximity to Pansy Freake Todhunter, an etcher in Toronto. Indeed he becomes privy to her intimate letters to British sculptor Barbara Hepworth. It is "Chips, " as she is called, who writes Dame Barbara: "The doctor is a bit of a puzzle. Long and cornery and quiet and looks like a horse with a secret sorrow." As the Cunning Man takes us through his own long and ardent life of theatre, art, and music, varied adventures in the Canadian Army during World War II, and the secrets of a doctor's consulting room, his preoccupation is not with sorrow but with the comedic canvas of life. Just as Dr. Hullah practices a type of psychosomatic medicine "by which I attempt to bring about changes in the disease syndromes throughlanguage, " so does Robertson Davies intertwine language and story, as perhaps never before, to offer us profound truths about being human.

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Davies is a master craftsman who intertwines humor with his superior knowledge of human nature. His characters are complex and drawn with an eye for detail. His plots are full of the scandals from which all our lives are constructed. Most of his books (like this one) are first-person narrated and therefore subject to the petty foibles, idiosyncratic jealousies etc. of perceptual bias of their narrator. 

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User Review  - Virginia Brace - Goodreads

I gave this book to my father back in 1995 after he read the Depford Trilogy he said he'd enjoyed it. I am so glad that I finally read it, as I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Hullah and the other characters ... Read full review

Contents

Section 1
3
Section 2
5
Section 3
9
Copyright

22 other sections not shown

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About the author (1996)

Robertson Davies (1913-1995) had three successive careers during the time he became an internationally acclaimed author: actor, publisher, and, finally, professor at the University of Toronto. The author of twelve novels and several volumes of essays and plays, he was the first Canadian to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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