Francis Cornish was born in Canada, spent the good part of his life in Europe learning how to paint. His masterful “Wedding At Cana” was so true to the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that he was accused of forging the work. He returned to Canada following WWII and you can read all about him in What’s Bred in the Bone, by Robertson Davies.
Known to discerning readers for his beguiling Deptford Trilogy and the more recent Rebel Angels, Canadian author Davies has written another irresistible novel. His story of the secret life of Francis Cornish, full of ironic twists and surprises, has the added enticement of a look inside the rarefied world of art experts and restorers. There is even a hint of the thriller genre, since Cornish joins British Intelligence to participate in an international scheme to defraud the Nazis of Old Masters. But this is primarily a character study, built around the theme: “what’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh,” with the corollary that suffering endured when one is young builds character for later achievements. Born into an eccentric, wealthy Canadian family in a backwoods town, enduring a lonely and suffocatingly pious upbringing, Cornish eventually becomes a respected art appraiser and collector, at the sacrifice of his considerable talent as a painter. In addition to the tantalizing story of how this comes about, related with elements of intrigue and mystery, Davies delivers a wickedly funny, trenchant dissection of provincial society and some witty observations about religion and art. The book is seamlessly constructed, interpolating some marvelous set pieces of comic intensity, and the reader hurtles through the taut, compelling narrative wishing it would never end.
As for me, I choose to remain anonymous, but you may contact me at frankcornish “at” myway.com.