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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant story of a dead man's life reviewed, 14 Jan 1999
By A Customer
What's bred in the bone will out in the flesh, the saying goes. Sheer genius must have composed the vast mass of Robertson Davies' bones. This wonderfully witty novel is typical of Davies' brilliant, erudite & gripping style. It left me aghast with wonder that one man can know so much, cover it so well and tie his references together and all the while remain hugely entertaining. This is the middle part of the Cornish Trilogy and as stunning as the other two. Two angels discuss the life of a deceased art collector and philanthropist and flashbacks show how the young man came to be widely respected from a life as an art forger. If you haven't already read "The Rebel Angels" do it, If you have, you have no need to read further, you will want to buy this book anyway. This is one of the best books I have ever read and Robertson Davies is one of the greats.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Agree, 19 Mar 2004
By 
T. Smith "timternet" (scilly isles) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Whats Bred In the Bone (Paperback)
The previous review is spot on - this trilogy is one of the most outstanding achievements of 20th century literature*, and this (the middle) is, along with A Prayer for Owen Meany, one of the greatest books of the last two decades. It didn't win the Booker prize, but, then again, 'How Late It Was, How Late' did - nuff said..
*along with his other Deptford and Salterton trilogies
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great work, 25 Aug 2011
This is the 2nd in the Cornish Trilogy. I read this first because it was what was available whilst on holiday when I was about 18 and, since reading the other two, I would say it was the best. I have since read almost all the Robertson Davies I could lay my hands on and he is one of my favourite authors. Although now deceased I still wish I could have met him and talked about his works. A wonderful writer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, 26 Jun 2013
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Thoroughly enjoyed this book once I got into it. At first I wasn't sure, but then I became totally engaged with the main character. A moving tale.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Astonishing Book, 21 April 2007
By 
Frank Bierbrauer (Manchester, Lancashire, UK) - See all my reviews
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I, at first, did not enjoy this book since I am not a fan of the rather cold English way of writing which lacks empathy and joy and is full of cynicism and an almost brutal acceptance of suffering without any concomitant emotions. This changed throughout however and the book is almost a work of art.

The book concerns itself with the life of Francis Cornish from his childhood to middle age with almost no mention of his later life up to his death. There are really two distinct parts to the book, the first deals with Francis's childhood and is written in that witty (and a little dry) style so characteristic of British humour. His childhood encompasses Francis's experiences of the Catholic and Protestant faiths as practised among his relatives who represent almost cliches in this sense. His impressive Grandfather, warm aunt, rarely seen mother and distant father as well as a range of fascinating characters such as Victoria Cameron the Scottish Protestant cook, Zadok the coachman and enbalmer and finally the crusty old doctor. This part builds the final character of Francis, except in one aspect, and gives an idea of why and how his life proceeds.

The second part is really about two people, Francis and Tancred Saraceni the Meister of Art who teaches Francis all about art restoration as well as much that is wise and deep. It is Saraceni who I believe to be the most interesting character and the last step in building Francis as a man, or as Saraceni calls him Corniche. This final part of his character one would call "Bildung" in German with all that this entails. As Francis develops his art, which started as a little boy with sketches of just about anything, his true talent is revealed. The moment when the Maestro tells him he is a master now is, I think, the finest moment in the book. It is unfortunate that Francis's talent is not further developed after he completes his only Masterpiece "The Marriage at Cana" a magnificent large oil painting in the 16th Century style. This painting really tells the story of Francis's soul and could have been the start of an incredible career of the Alchemical Master as Saraceni puts it. Unfortunately his career as an artist never takes off and one is disappointed with his lack of drive and passion to continue. It is this last third of the book where it becomes difficult to really enjoy it as much. It must not be forgotten how well Davies writes in this section about art and especially about the soul of art. This is why the book itself is perilously close to a work of art itself.

The last part deals with Francis's life as, first, a low grade spy in the service of MI5 during WWII and finally as an art dealer in Canada. Here too we learn a little more about his father and his one love affair with Ismay, the passion driven beauty of his life. His father never really steps out of his "Wooden Soldier" shoes but Ismay represents some real women I have known.

An astonishing book and hopefully the remaining ones in the trilogy are as good.
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What's Bred in the Bone
What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies (Paperback - 6 April 1995)
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