The Gargoyle is a difficult book to review and summarize. The plot crosses many genre lines and deals with many issues. That said, here is my attempt.
The novel begins with the narrator getting in a car accident after bingeing on liquor and cocaine. He has a bottle of bourbon between his legs at the time and him and his car go up in flames. He is burned over most of his body and is in a hospital burn unit for a very long time.
Marianne Engel, a famous sculptress of gargoyles, shows up on his unit one day and tells him that they were lovers in medieval Germany. She claims that he was a mercenary and that she was a scribe. He doesn't really much faith in this claim, but is mesmerized by Marianne.
When he was ready to be released from the hospital he was still going to need continuous care. Normally he would have been sent to a rehab centre, however Marianne volunteers to take him into her home. She has the resources for him to get the care he needs.
This book is richly layered with many themes and symbolism. It is not a book to be read quickly, but rather slowly and contemplatively. One of the major themes is of redemption and there are many references to Dante's Inferno in it.
This book is not for the faint of heart. The burns that the nameless narrator goes through and many other aspects are vividly outlined. Though I don't normally like a book with much gore, it is needed in this book. It's not there to purposely shock the reader, but to inform.
I really liked this book. It has a lot to keep the reader interested and is well researched and written. The stories that Marianne tells are very engaging and were my favorite part of the book.
I only have one complaint. Throughout the book the author refers to Marianne by her full name, Marianne Engel. Her entire name appears several times on the same page. Though this doesn't ruin the book, it is a distraction, at least for me. I have no idea if this was intentional, though for what purpose I can't fathom or if is was in need of better editing. That said, I did read an advance reading copy, so maybe in the final version published this was fixed. I sure hope so.
I highly recommend The Gargoyle and look forward to reading more from Andrew Davidson.Read more ›
This dark, subversive and heavily allegorical novel weaves myth, legend and Dante's legendary The Inferno into a relentless narrative of hell and friendship, of love and reincarnation. Filled with fervency, action and intrigue, Davidson's novel moves from the 14th-century to the present day and one man's journey to discover the dark depths his inner soul after a devastating accident scars him for life. The story begins as our coke-fuelled narrator drives off a bridge late one night, his burning car falling into a creek, the violent flames eventually extinguished, but not before his flesh is broiled and he is tarnished beyond recognition. Once a self-obsessed and hedonistic porn-star, his glistening body inhabiting a "graceful muscularity," our narrator transforms into a burnt out shell even as "the gaping maw of a snake," lunges at him, laughing while burning his hands and feet and consuming him from head to toe.
It is two months before he wakes from a coma, his body ultimately ravaged, unrecognizable as his former self. Even as he appears as a monster "a thing of engorged flesh suffused with juice," with his manhood now forever severed, images about the accident reel into each other and he cannot help but dream of gargoyles waiting to be born and a tail with one ring deeper into Hell.
While his former associates of the skin trade gradually drift away, unable to cope with the scene before them, he lies in bed, the drip of morphine inhabiting every inch of his spine. Only through his kindly doctor Nan Edwards, his therapist Gregor, and Sayuri, a bubbly Japanese physical therapist, can our narrator hope to pulled back from the brink. Soon enough a mysterious heavily tattooed young woman by the name of Marianne Engel appears in the burn ward door dressed in a light green hospital gown, whispering the word, "Engelthal," and tells him that this is in fact the third time he's been burned.
At first our narrator think she's a lunatic, perhaps even an escapee from the psychiatric ward of the hospital. But Marianne knows the origin of the scar over his heart and she seems have an insight into his very soul, telling him that once upon a time she lived in the 14th century and led a medieval life at the of monastery Engelthal, at the time one of the most important spiritual centers in Germany, where she grew up and was eventually employed as a scribe in the monastery's its scriptorium.
A sort of spirit who invites damaged souls into her home for rebirth, Marianne is convinced that she has been placed in God's service. She rapidly becomes the new woman in our narrator's life, beguiling him with stories of their time together when he was her one true love from a supposed previous life and where he was once a man who was left for dead, but was resurrected buy her. In a narrative that is both fascinating and repellant, Davidson digs deep into the heart of Marianne's past where historical, religious and literary illusions flourish sometimes in the dark pits of hell. In an unexpected reversal of fate, it is only after our narrator's skin is burned away that he finally becomes able to feel: "Only after I was born into physical repulsiveness did I come to glimpse the possibilities of the heart."
Vivid and melodic, The Gargoyle is all about the relationship between art, love and the soul where love can crumble under a few harsh words, or be tossed away with a handful of careless actions and where scars can ultimately make us who we are. Although Davidson's narrative overreaches a bit, especially in the last quarter, the story is always powerful and provocative and in the end shows a fine compassion for the spiritual traumas of burn victims, as well as their injuries and treatment practices. The strength of the novel is the detailed religious imagery and the weaving into the narrative of Dante's The Inferno as well as the two love stories from both centuries which begin to morph into one. Only then do we finally understand the origin of Marianne's strapping and muscular love and why she fanatically sculptures of gargoyles out of blocks of cement even when it becomes detrimental to her own health. But inevitably it is our narrator, with his "atrocious face and abominable body" who must force himself to overcome the limitations of who he is. Only through Marianne and her stories of love and triumph does he find the comfort and strength to continue. Mike Leonard 2008.Read more ›
The Gargoyle Andrew Davidson, a new Canadian author, has debuted with a powerful and absorbing book. A story of love that transcends time and boundaries over 700 years, the book is filled with history, none of it dry. Medical practices from medieval to current times, beliefs of the centuries, everyday life experiences, and brought it all into an almost magical present. The characters are unique but built gradually so the reader can gather the fullness of them. It is written with the voice of one of the two main characters, a rather unsavory film maker and actor at the outset with only his own ambition and looks in his mind. A man detached from normal life, love, and destiny. One thing he does do though, is read deeply and thoroughly.
On drugs and drunk, he has a horrendous car accident which is about to change his life completely. He awakens in a hospital where he finds he is so badly burned that it is a wonder he could wake up at all. His "friends" come and go as quickly as possible. As time passes, a young woman comes in to visit him and one of the first things he notices is that she shows no look of horror at what she sees of his injuries. Instead, she makes the cryptic comment "You've been burned. Again." Rather than the sadness and disgust one might expect to feel during the burn treatments, they are relatively easy to read, well researched, and necessary to the plot. Marianne is a patient in the hospital and it is believed she has psychological disorders... or does she? Attempts to bar her from visiting him in the burn unit are to no avail. He shortly afterward requests every psychology book he can get, particularly relating to schizophrenia, from the psychiatrist who befriends him.
Throughout "The Gargoyle", Marianne visits him, later arranging for him to share her home and accept her for his care and recovery. She relates several stories of her life over the previous seven centuries and about how she came to meet him again and again. There is so much to be learned on many levels from this book and I found it engrossing. Oh yes, there are gargoyles, or more correctly grotesques, but not in the way you might expect. I do not want to put any spoilers in this review, so let it be said that whether fanciful or real, the ending will leave you with questions both answered and unanswered. I have never read a book quite like this but the one thing that is consistent is pure selfless love. Suspend your belief for a while and enjoy this surprising and fascinating debut! My congratulations to Andrew Davidson, this is one extraordinary book.Read more ›