What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies (Ibis3's CanLit 101 Book#8)

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From the back cover:
"Francis Cornish was always good at keeping secrets. From the well-hidden family secret of his childhood to his mysterious encounters with a small-town embalmer, a master art restorer, a Bavarian countess, and various masters of espionage, the events in Francis's life were not always what they seemed."

A kind of prequel to 'The Rebel Angels', but featuring a framing sequence that takes place after the events of that novel, this second book of the Cornish Trilogy is a stand alone story. This biography is, in some respects, the story of one man's relationship with Art. At the same time, it is a reflection of the history of 20th century Canada, as Francis grows from his small town Ontario roots with its vestiges of British imperialism, is exposed to cosmopolitan Europe and returns to Canada as an excentric arbiter of what constitutes good taste in homegrown art. It might sound a little boring, but it's really just the opposite.

This book was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1986.

I read this a couple of years ago and plan to read it again to brush up before reading The Lyre of Orpheus within the next month or so (it will be Book #10).

 

 

I'm just past the half way point (Francis is in his second year at Oxford). One thing I noticed reading it a second time is how the narrative shifts. In the first part, Francis himself has no voice, but then suddenly he's an adult having conversations and writing letters.

Davies is such a great writer. I said that Blue Mountains of China was like trudging through a snow drift and that Island was skimming the surface of a calm deep sea. What's Bred in the Bone is like having hot cocoa with your grandfather on a long winter's night while he tells you how things used to be. It's very straight forward with hints of humour and little philosophical digressions.

 

I love Davies' discussions about art, the artist, the Mothers, etc. etc. This is real erudition and insight instead of the pretense and misinformation one finds occasionally (no names need be mentioned I think).

I'm very much looking forward to the next one. I want to find out what happens to Cornish's posthumous reputation.

 

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