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'I was never so amazed in my life as when the Sniffer drew his concealed weapon from its case and struck me to the ground, stone dead.' So begins the story of Connor 'Gil' Gilmartin when he catches his wife in flagrante with the Sniffer, his former colleague and now his murderer. Unfortunately, death is only the first indignity Gil is about to suffer. For he lingers on as a ghost, and from this bleak vantage - made even less endurable by the fact that he must spend the afterlife sitting beside his killer at a film festival - he is forced to view the exploits and failures of his ancestors, from the forerunners who sailed up the Hudson to Canada during the American Revolution to his university-professor parents.
The University of St John and the Holy Ghost (known affectionately as Spook) has a problem - and an opportunity. Strange, eccentric art patron and collector Francis Cornish has died and faculty members have been made executors of his complicated will. But in the realization of their duties, they find themselves drawn into Cornish's bizarre, secretive and mystical world. In this spellbinding trilogy a host of memorable characters - defrocked, mischief-making monks, half-mad professors, gypsies and musical geniuses - become entangled in a story that involves theft, perjury, scholarship, murder, love, and the squandering of plenty of cash.
Narrated by two angels acting as commentators on Francis' life, this novel is a curious blend of fable, religion, and mythology. Francis Cornish was always good at keeping secrets. From the well-hidden family secret of his childhood to his mysterious encounters with a small-town embalmer, an expert art restorer, a Bavarian countess, and various masters of espionage, the events in Francis' life were not always what they seemed. In this wonderfully ingenious portrait of an art expert and collector of international renown, Robertson Davies has created a spellbinding tale of artistic triumph and heroic deceit. It is a tale told in stylish, elegant prose and endowed with lavish portions of Davies' wit and wisdom.
"e;It's a muddle, thought Monica. A muddle and I can't get it straight. I wish I knew what I should do. I wish I even knew what I want to do...I want to go on in the life that has somehow or other found me and claimed me. And I want so terribly to be happy. Oh god, don't let me slip under the surface of all the heavy-hearted dullness that seems to claim so many people."e; A Mixture of Frailties is so much more than the story of Monica Gall's life in London and her education as a singer. It is an account of her education as a human being, and the result is an absorbing novel, comic in the true sense, vivid and frequently moving.
A goodhearted priest and scholar, a professor with a passion for the darker side of medieval psychology, a defrocked monk, and a rich young businessman who inherits some troublesome paintings are all helplessly beguiled by the same coed. The story is set in motion by the death of art collector Francis Cornish, and Robertson Davies weaves together the destinies of this remarkable cast of characters in smooth, lyrical prose, creating a wise and witty portrait of love, murder, and scholarship at a modern university.