What's Bred In The Bone by Robertson Davies
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book was a struggle to read, and while at points I would give four or five stars, overall the end of the book really brought it down for me and I struggled to finish it.
The book excels in parts. When we see Francis as a little boy or later as an art apprentice trying to solve a painting’s origins the book shines. The more the novel goes into the art world however, it gets dragged down in a smileless, soulless vacuum that I had no interest in deciphering.
Told, with a hint of pretension, by two spirits, the Lesser Zadkiel and the Daimon Maimas, the book is the story of an artist’s life. As the book says in one of the first few pages:
“I'd know what was bred in the bone of old Francis. Because what's bred in the bone will come out in the flesh, and we should never forget it.”
And so we journey through time to recap the life of Francis Cornish. Some humour would have been appreciated along the way. Although there were moments I was drawn right in, I felt a yo-yo effect as I would always be drawn back out again by wordy, dry passages such as the following:
“Francis must work in terms of the austere but not starveling manner of the sunset of the Gothic world. And as he made his drawings he found that this was a manner that would serve him very well; the myth of Francis Cornish was not a Renaissance myth, or a myth of Reason or of self-delighted egotism, or the myth of the World of Things. If he could not speak in the voice of his century he would speak in the final accents of the Gothic voice.”
So many things in here I don’t know or care to find out. Is the concept of “Gothic voice” really that well known?
There were moments along the way when I cared about what happened in his life, but I never cared about Francis. I don’t think I remember any of the other character’s names. Humour and likeability could have helped. Overall the book was a struggle.
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