Retro Review: What’s Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies


“The best thing about Plato was his good style. He liked to invent systems, but he was too fine and artist to trust his systems fully. Now I’ve come to hate systems. I hate your pet system, I hate Fascism, and I hate the system that exists. But I suppose there must be some system and I’ll take any system that leaves me alone to get on with my work.” — Francis Cornish on the mindset of an Artist.

Roberston Davies must have been a fascinating person. I’ve only read one other novel of his, Fifth Business, in Canadian high school. From my small amount of research though, Davies appears to be pretty hung up on the extraordinary story of the un-extraordinary. How wonderful. How Exciting. How Canadian–and I say that with zero disdain.

Fifth Business is a book, that centres around a supporting character in the grander story of something else. Hence that name, Fifth Business, which is a theatrical term, common in operatic story structure. It refers to a role which is supporting and important for propelling the plot, but secondary to the hero and heroine’s role in the story.

What’s Bred in the Bone is a variation on that theme. The hero, is at the surface, simply an old art collector and miser. When we look closer, we find that Francis Cornish’s life was carefully crafted and destined to make an impact on the world, long after his death. Little did anyone know what a portrait of greatness could look like.

Continue reading


Retro Review: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

This is my first Retro Review Post. The name is probably obvious, but I’ll just say that Retro Reviews are reviews of old books that randomly come to me by word of mouth or pushy book-lenders. This week’s Retro Review is a book that I found in the free pile in my friend’s building’s laundry room.

I don’t read every book that I find in a free pile, but when three of my friends randomly came into possession of the same book, we decided to read it together. Here’s what I thought:

EannieProulx_TheShippingNewsThe thing that will strike the reader most about The Shipping News is not the story itself, but the atmosphere of the book. I am desperate to go to Newfoundland now, just desperate.

I would rather go to Newfoundland and eat flipper pie, work for a local newspaper full of typos and drive a boat to work than live in Manhattan and work for the New York Times. That’s how well E. Annie Proulx has convinced me of this world and the way she does it is so ultra clever.

We begin with a man named Quoyle who, in the outside world, is soggy and loathsome. I wasn’t sure I could go through with this novel to begin with because I didn’t know that I wanted to spend that much time with such a pathetic, self-victimizing, paragraph of depression as him. He’s everything that a person hopes that they are not. You don’t want to know too much about him because you don’t want it to rub off on you.

Continue reading