Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson

Summary: An extraordinary debut novel of love that survives the fires of hell and transcends the boundaries of time.

The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide—for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul.

A beautiful and compelling, but clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. As she spins their tale in Scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in Japan, Iceland, Italy, and England, he finds himself drawn back to life—and, finally, in love. He is released into Marianne's care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. But all is not well. For one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. For another, Marianne receives word from God that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete—and her time on earth will be finished.

Already an international literary sensation, The Gargoyle is an Inferno for our time. It will have you believing in the impossible.

My Review: The story begins with a drug addict getting into a terrible car crash that results in severe burns all over his body. As his story unfolds you find out that not only is he a druggie, he is also a porn star. This makes it difficult for the reader to feel much sympathy for him despite the extremely painful processes he must endure during his recovery, which as explained in the first few chapters in excruciating graphic detail. This rather unlikable character is the narrator for the book (and only as I am writing this do I realize that he remains unnamed throughout the story).

While in the first stages of recovery, Marianne Engel slips over from the psych ward and insists that her and the burn victim knew each other long ago, in medieval times. Although you doubt her she begins to reveal secrets that no one else could possibly know. Then as she is nursing him back to health she unravels the story of their past, which turns out to be very much a love story with a tragic end. While doing this, Marianne weaves in other fascinating love stories of couples from the 1200-1400's. As the healing progresses, so does the modern day relationship between Marianne and the narrator (whom I jokingly refer to as human charcoal).

Although the story told in the present view was interesting, it was not nearly as captivating as the stories of the past that are told throughout the novel. I could have read an entire book filled with these stories of tragic true love. I was especially engrossed by the story of a Japanese glass maker's daughter, which the author tells on amazon.com. I also very much enjoyed the story of Marianne and the narrator's past that was spread out through the novel.

Considering that this is Andrew Davidson's first novel, I would have to say that he is an outstanding author. This is a man that just has a way with words and using words in such a manner that inspires the reader to reflect. For example he describes love as a pygmy mouse lemur...a tiny, jittery primate with eyes permanently peeled open in fear. How's that for a new way of thinking about love?

Overall I would say that while this book was better than average, it wasn't fantastic for me. That being said, I am not sure that this is an entirely fair review for two reasons. First, I picked the wrong time to read this book. It fell into a very busy time of my life and therefore, took over three weeks for me to get through, which is an insane amount of time for me. I was forced to read this book in small increments and was never able to engross myself in it the way the book deserved. Secondly, I had extremely high expectations (unrealistic if I do say so myself) for this novel given it's numerous outstanding reviews, some by favorite authors such as Sara Gruen.

I would really like to read this book again at a time when I could devote just a few days to it and without the expectations. There are so many realizations that came to me after finishing the book. For instance, I mentioned before I didn't even know that the narrator was unnamed until I went to search for his name to write the review. This has to say something about how the novel was narrated. Also I read the reader's guide after I finished the book and found out there were two acrostics within the chapters. The first letter of every chapter spells out ALL THINGS IN A SINGLE BOOK BOUND BY LOVE, which is printed on the cover of the book as well. The last letter of every chapter spells out DIE LIEBE IST STARK WIE DER TOD, MARIANNE, meaning "Love is as strong as death, Marianne". Both of which you will understand better once reading the novel.

My Rating: 3.5, this time around at least. (I reserve the right to change that after the next reading)

If I had to sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A blazingly unique love story.

1 comment:

CurtisandMindy said...

kudos to you for using "blazingly" in your sum up line. it made me smile.

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