Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies


Francis Cornish was an eccentric Canadian art collector who, in The Rebel Angels, died and left his enormous, disorganized, uncatalogued, and partially pilfered art collection to be sorted through by three co-executors of his estate. What's Bred in the Bone is the second book in Robertson Davies’ “Cornish Trilogy,” which concludes with The Lyre of Orpheus.

This second volume tells the remarkable, and stand-alone, story of Cornish’s life. Born to affluence in a backwoods Canadian town, Cornish was the poor little rich kid bullied by his roughneck schoolmates, all but abandoned by his politically influential parents who spent their time in Ottowa, and raised by an eccentric bunch of relatives and family retainers. While studying art and philosophy in pre-war Oxford, Cornish was recruited to act as an unpaid British spy and sent to Bavaria to report on Nazi concentration camps with the cover of working as an apprentice for a master art restorer.

As if all this wasn’t plot enough, the art restoration project turns out to be an elaborate swindle to undermine the Nazis and save European art treasures. Cornish is in it up to his eyeballs, wrestling with his conscious as an artist as well as the international art community.

Davies wraps the compelling story in bigger ideas about human nature, art, religion, and family. It’s a book to recommend to anyone looking for a ripping yarn, but also one to stand up to multiple readings.


If you would like your review of this or any other Robertson Davies book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it. 


I read What's Bred in the Bone as one of my books for two of the TBR challenges I am doing this year: The MT. TBR CHALLENGE (hosted by Bev on My Reader's Block) and the OFF THE SHELF CHALLENGE (hosted by Bonnie on Bookish Ardour).

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