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Murther & Walking Spirits [Paperback]

Robertson Davies
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 July 2011

'I was never so amazed in my life as when the Sniffer drew his concealed weapon from its case and struck me to the ground, stone dead.'

So begins the story of Connor 'Gil' Gilmartin when he catches his wife in flagrante with the Sniffer, his former colleague and now his murderer. Unfortunately, death is only the first indignity Gil is about to suffer. For he lingers on as a ghost, and from this bleak vantage - made even less endurable by the fact that he must spend the afterlife sitting beside his killer at a film festival - he is forced to view the exploits and failures of his ancestors, from the forerunners who sailed up the Hudson to Canada during the American Revolution to his university-professor parents.

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Murther & Walking Spirits + The Cunning Man + The Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, A Mixture of Frailties
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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Re-issue edition (28 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241952662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241952665
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 720,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Will be recognized with the very best works of this century (New York Times Books Review)

Vintage Davies, employing a subtle feeling for family relationships and a genuine understanding of money and power while indulging in effortless intellectual acrobatics (Sunday Telegraph)

Davies' devotees will recognize at once the master's sharp ear for proverbial wisdoms, his relish for fantastical and dark linguistic corners, his magpie accumulations of odd bits of lore and historical tidbits (Observer)

An extraordinary tapestry of a book - richly layered, embroidered with detail and stitched together with skill and style (Time Out)

About the Author

Robertson Davies was born in Thamesville, Ontario, in 1913. A novelist, playwright, literary critic and essayist, he received numerous awards for his work. It is as a writer of fiction that Robertson Davies achieved international recognition, with such books as The Salterton Trilogy (Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice and A Mixture of Frailties); The Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore and World of Wonders); The Cornish Trilogy (The Rebel Angels, What's Bred in the Bone, shortlisted for the 1986 Booker Prize, and The Lyre of Orpheus); Murther & Walking Spirits, and The Cunning Man. Robertson Davies died in 1995.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murther and Walking Spirits 1 Jan 2009
The narrator of the novel is murdered on the first page and is bound in some way to his murderer. Together they attend a film festival, where the murderer (a film critic) watches classic films along with the rest of the audience. The narrator, however, is trapped and forced to watch a different set of films. Gradually it becomes clear that these are films showing his history and that of his family - the story of his great great grandmother escaping New York after the War of Independence for example.

Nothing is hidden - the narrator can overhear their thoughts, see the unfolding actions in context. It is beautifully written, with strong characters and a really strong sense of place (the description of the poverty stricken village in Wales is particularly striking).

It is also an uncomfortable read in the sense that gradually you as the reader begin to wonder what you would have to watch if you were in this position.

I would recommend the novel - it is quirky, amusing and very well written; although it appears to be episodic everything is connected. The different characters are clearly defined, with some that are almost unforgettable and the sense of place is flawless.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Robertson Davies does Canadian history 28 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is outside R. D.'s usual haunts (a pun is intended). It is a sequence of biographies of the ancestors of of a man who is murdered literally in the first sentence of the book. One learns that Canada has more than her fair share of sectarianism, and has been severely strait-laced even by the standards of former times. Some episodes are set in Wales, & the first of these reads more like legend than reality. Other episodes are more realistic, but all more or less grim; don't go looking for torrid love scenes. Any humour is of the gallows persuasion. Still, highly readable, but one of R.D.'s more lightweight offerings (as well as one of his last).
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3.0 out of 5 stars Dull 19 Mar 2013
By JBear
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the only Robertson Davies book I have not enjoyed reading. He was a master stury-teller and I wouldn't have believed he could write a dull word until I read this, which is ironic because story-telling is one of the major themes. This was his last book, however, and it continues the (brilliant) Cunning Man.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Robertson Davies 18 Mar 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Read a book where authoress included this author as one of her favourites. He is now mine also! Great reading.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.9 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WE DIE AND LEARN 4 Nov 2000
By Shadow Woman - Published on Amazon.com
Let me tell you, Davies wrote one helluva book here, and I absolutely adore Murther and Walking Spirits. It's very rooted in Eastern philosophy and is in many ways opposed to the western views on death. Westerners tend to view death as a failure or an embarassment and not as the natural course of things, like the Easterners do. This novel parodies the insincere, uncomprehending views on death that many of us hold. Davies also brings things into perspective on a larger scale by tracing Gilmartin's (the dead protagonist) ancestors, from his great-great-great grandparents up to his parents through a film festival of sorts, helping his spirit to realize what death, life, and the 'hero-struggle' really means in the long run, or the never-ending now. If anyone found this book underwhelming, it may be because Davies did not explain the character's development for the reader in clear terms, assuming perhaps they were bright enough to catch it on their own. It takes more than a little bit of thinking to get this book, and I've been doing a lot of that since I finished reading it. Davies has taught me a lot, and I highly recommend his fictions to any and everyone.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, albeit "roughly translated"! 20 Jun 2001
By Cipriano - Published on Amazon.com
An interesting book, I really enjoyed it. Who else but R. Davies could kill off his main character in the first sentence, and then chronicle the experiences of the disembodied ghost for over three and a half hundred pages... and yet keep it increasingly interesting? He does it. Incidentally, Davies believed that physical death would not spell the annihilation of the animating spirit of man (a belief to which I am in full agreement). He once speculated about his own afterlife by saying: "I haven't any notion of what I might be or whether I'll be capable of recognizing what I've been, or perhaps even what I am, but I expect that I shall be something." Murther is a really interesting fictional account of what that "something" might be like.
The moment that Connor Gilmartin is struck dead in his own bedroom by his wife's lover, he finds that he is still alive! Perhaps even more alive than he has ever been; he is in a state that the opening chapter calls "roughly translated". He's a ghost; a walking spirit. This new state is fraught with all manner of possibilities and limitations. For one thing, his powers of awareness and observation are heightened, but he is unable to communicate with any of the living, no matter how he jumps up and down or shouts in their ear. And for that typically Robertsonian twist, the great author borrows an idea from the Bhagavad Gita which states that after death one maintains a connection with what one was thinking about at the moment of death. (It behoved a man to be concerned with what he was thinking of as he died)! So... what was Connor Gilmartin thinking of at that moment? Well, he was processing the fact that he had just caught his wife involved with a man (a co-worker) whom he particularly despised for many reasons, and secondly, he was thinking of a particular work-related problem concerning an upcoming Film Festival in Toronto to which this man (his murderer) was vying with him for position as lead writer. Now Connor is dead, aware of his wife's duplicity in covering up the murder but unable to vindicate himself in any way, and furthermore he is bound inextricably to his own murderer who attends the Film Festval as lead writer in his place. In a surreal twist, at the Film Festival, what Connor views on the screen is not what the others are seeing, but rather it is a documentary of his own ancestry... (one's life flashes before one's eyes??) He is seeing something wholly personal. After the festival he is instantly translated back to see how his wife is winding up her affairs... he sees that she has actually found a way to profit from his untimely demise. This story was great right to the end... with the disclaimer that in my opinion it is important to remember it as a fanciful rather than a literal view of what happens after your last breath. He raises a lot of interesting things to think about though. Not the best example of Davies' work, but still worthy of four and a half stars to the best Canadian writer ever.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Outing by Davies 22 July 2000
By Richard Lewis - Published on Amazon.com
"Murther and Walking Spirits" is not part of any Davies trilogy, so Davies had one book to develop some interesting chracters, not an easy task. I think Davies did a great job in this book of presenting the struggle of more than the ghost, but of the every day person through the flashbacks/films. The ending is just what one would expect from Davies and the plot follows a simple but effective model. It starts in the real world, then moves to the "film festival", then back to the real world. The plot is like a circle, much like life. There is also plenty of wit and charm in this book just like anything Davies writes.

The down side to this book is that from the start you know the major chracter is dead, so there's no hope for him. However, some how Davies manages to show that although he is dead, he isn't without hope. The "films" he watches in the book just help him realize that he's a link in a very important chain that is his family. The hope comes from the fact that he knows he lived his life the best way he could, like all his relatives in the "films."

Character development could had been better, but a writer can only do so much in one novel. Davies was a bit too ambitious introducing all the characters he did in such a small book. However, the characters are still interesting none the less. This novel is a entertaining read and it makes you think at times. I recommend this book to anyone who read anything else by Davies and liked it, or just to someone who wants something interesting to read.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The cinema of life. 10 April 1999
By Johann G. Thorarensen (jgt84@hotmail.com) - Published on Amazon.com
This book was a pleasure to read. Though not a favourite of mine, it is more tender in a way than any of Davies' novels. It is slower than some of his earlier work and deals more intimately and thoroughly with the family history of the (ghost-)narrator. It may seem odd to say so but it's as if Davies is reviewing his own life, or aspects of it. A recommended read to the old man's fans.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It's Like a Film Festival in Purgatory 12 Nov 2004
By R Rheaume - Published on Amazon.com
My quick advice: if you love Davies and you've read absolutely everything else, nothing I say will stop you.

If you love Davies and there's something else you haven't read, go read it before this one.

If you haven't read Davies, please, please don't start here because this is awful and just not indicative of what a great writer he is.

Davies was clearly touched by a bit of nostalgia, did some digging into his family tree and then decided to build a long boring story around it. The book is deceptive because it starts out as a murder and you expect to witness the ghost inflict revenge in some cunning fashion. No such excitement. Try two hundred years of immigrant movements disguised as one of those excruciating never ending black and white marathon film festivals. If this makes no sense the book probably won't either.
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