What’s Bred in the Bone

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Cornish has already died when the narrative opens, and his official biographer admits that he has failed to discover the significance of his subject’s life. Two spirits then appear; one of them is Cornish’s “Daimon"--a kind of guardian angel--who reveals what the biographer has missed. At times, the spirits interrupt the quickly paced narrative to comment on how particular events affected Cornish.

Although Cornish’s childhood in Canada appeared outwardly dull, those years formed a basis for the life to come, and on the surface, it seemed a rich life. After preparatory school in Toronto, Cornish went to Oxford University where he gained distinction. Wealthly through inheritance, he then traveled on the Continent to pursue his artistic ambitions and to serve as a British spy. This combination led him into a number of adventures, including one close to prewar Nazi Germany.

When the war ended, Cornish decided to return to Canada. He was by then a respected authority on art and a famous collector. He had, however, failed as a painter, because his two materpieces were in truth fakes.

So what had Cornish truly accomplished? Were his years distinguished by anything special? Did he make any worthwhile contributions to art? Through the voice of the Daimon, Davies considers these questions and draws conclusions regarding the life and times of Francis Cornish. In his search for answers to Cornish’s riddle, Davies reaffirms the joy of...

(The entire section is 448 words.)