THE LYRE OF ORPHEUS by Robertson Davies
Kirkus Star


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Canadian novelist Davies once again delivers the goods--with this solidly entertaining finale to the trilogy struck up by Rebel Angels (1982) and carried through in What's Bred in the Bone (1985). Blending a characteristic knack for wit, esoterica, and snobbery, Davies charges ahead with a buoyant tale of upper-class grantsmanship and modern-day cuckoldry. What Rebel Angels was for academe, and what Bred in the Bone was for art, his newest is for opera. Davies' central cast, resurfacing from previous novels, here conspire to reconstruct and mount an unfinished opera by the German romantic composer E.T.A. Hoffman--and the project is more than sufficient to generate the collegial rivalry and highbrow asides that have become the hallmarks of Davies' style. Arthur and Maria Cornish return--heading up a money-bag foundation formed in Bred in the Bone--with the intention of funding Hoffman's Magnanimous Cuckold; but it wouldn't be a Davies novel if we didn't also get a few wrangling intellectuals in tow, including Rev. Simon Darcourt and Clem Hollier, two Rebel Angels and Bred in the Bone alumni. A contemptible but brilliant graduate student by the name of Schnakenburg provides the musical score and learns a few manners along the way; the ghost of E.T.A. Hoffman himself provides commentary from that corner of limbo where unfulfilled artists go after this vale of cultural tears. At the core of the psychological action, Arthur and Maria reenact the Arthurian legend of Magnanimous Cuckold when--following evidence that Arthur has become impotent--Maria gets pregnant, and a close friend of Arthur's is singled out as the culprit. Along with this, there's Simon Darcourt's education in larceny when he swipes a painting and uncovers yet another juicy tidbit--art forgery--buried in the Cornish dynasty. A spry jaunt from an old master--once again in full command of the form.
Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1988
ISBN: 0140114335
Page count: 484pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1988


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