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High Spirits – Robertson Davies



Posted September 1, 2016 by

High Spirits – Robertson Davies – 1982


Reviewed by: Dave        Date: 19 December 2001

5 stars if Massey College is your alma mater, 3 stars if it isn’t.

By “High” Spirits in the title, Davies’ is referring to the fact that the ghosts in these stories are most often of lofty earthly lineage. They are “highly” extracted. In these 18 stories we meet the ghosts of King George the V and VI of Great Britain, Queen Victoria, Sir John A. MacDonald, Saint George of Cappadocia, William Lyon mackenzie King, and John Strachan (founder of Massey College) to name but a few. These are no ordinary run-of-the-mill random ghosts, and these are not “scary” ghost stories. They are moreso HUMOROUS and were meant originally to entertain guests at the annual Gaudy Nights held at Massey College when Davies was Master there.

While these stories are very well-done (original and highly inventive) and no doubt caused quite a stir in their time, to read them now seems quite dated. The inferences and specific allusions to college life are lost on the modern reader who may not have a conversational grasp of Canadian political history, or a knowledge of the finer points of Massey College’s quadrangles and inner sanctums. All in all, these stories are best TOLD to their original hearers… a few times I had the sense that I would have liked to have been in attendence as Davies’ recited these to his guests. But to sit and read them nowadays?… I don’t know, at the end of each story I sort of felt like… “so what?” I am a big fan of Davies’ writing, but this is not a book I would highly recommend to anyone getting to know his work.

ReadLit Team


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