All the world's a stage

I had never heard of the Canadian author, Robertson Davies, until a few weeks ago. He was mentioned on BBC Radio 4's  Front Row, where singer Laura Marling said that he was one of her favourite authors, apparently he's also an influence on Christopher Brookmyre, who writes the most deliciously subversive crime fiction. Then I walked into my local library and there was a Robertson Davies novel, Tempest-tost just waiting for me. Of course I was unable to resist.

It was great fun. Davies writes brilliantly funny comedies of manners set in small-town Canada (although they could equally well be small-town anywhere). In Tempest-Tost he assembles a fabulous set of characters, all coming together to give an outdoor performance of Shakespeare's Tempest. There are beautiful girls, the local Lothario, the young man who is firmly under his mother's thumb (except when she's drugged to the gills on sleeping pills), the 14 year old girl with a passion for brewing illicit liquor, and a truly electrifying cart-horse. This is small town Canada as you've never seen it before. Davies has Jane Austen's gift for looking at the minutiae of everyday life, and like Trollope has a sharp eye for comedy, although Davies' comedy often comes with a slightly dark tinge.

Hilariously funny, compelling reading, with great characters - I enjoyed it so much that I went out and bought the rest of the Salterton trilogy immediately. A truly satisfying read.


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