Book Forty-Two: The Lyre of Orpheus

I realize that The Book Project is starting to feel like it’s taking over, which isn’t entirely my fault, because I read rather a lot and I haven’t been feeling clever, inspired, or particularly joyous lately. I also haven’t wanted to write about much rather than the election lately, because the election is infuriating and depressing me, and I figure there’s only so much political writing you lot will swallow. At any rate, I’ll try to intersperse more non-book posts soon, I promise.

At the rate I’m going, I’ll have re-read the complete works of Robertson Davies by April, if not before. I really can’t help myself. There is a lot of stuff on order at the library, but I’ve ended up way in the back of the order queues, so it’s taking awhile. For the time being, Davies it is. This is the third book in the Cornish Trilogy, which I like reading out of order because it just feels better than way to me. The narrative flow seems more sensible reading this book in the middle, rather than at the end.

The Lyre of Orpheus plays on a number of recurring themes that Davies likes to cover. We’ve got an ambitious opera, a troubled marriage, rich people, people interacting with the rich people, art, and a healthy dose of malice and intrigue. And, of course, academics, because it follows up on the characters in The Rebel Angels.

It’s intriguing to me that in both the Cornish and the Depford Trilogies, we have an arts trust which hands out substantial amounts of money with the goal of furthering the arts, and in both cases the money finances the production of a new opera. Davies apparently had a bit of a soft spot for the stage, and in fact wrote several plays. And in both cases we also see the ways in which money corrupts and softens people, which makes Davies a man after my own heart.

I also note that many of his British characters have a decidedly jokey cast, almost stereotypical, and sometimes I detect a faint Canadian sneer in their direction from Davies. We won’t get into his treatment of Americans for the time being, as it might upset your delicate sensibilities. But it is interesting for me to read books by Canadian authors, because I think that most Americans kind of ignore Canada, the lurking land to the North, perhaps at our own cost, and it’s nice to be steeped in Canadian-centric content now and then.

I think that the Cornish trilogy might be the finest work from Davies, and I suspect that others might agree. It’s nothing less than brilliant, with a splendid array of characters, scenes, and events. Good times for all. Look soon for What’s Bred in the Bone, which I’m almost done with, thanks to the rainy weather.


The Lyre of Orpheus, by Robertson Davies. Published 1988, 472 pages. Fiction.