Fantasy Book Critic

Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Giveaways and more…

"The Gargoyle" by Andrew Davidson

Posted by cervantor on AM00000070000000031 1, 2008

Official The Gargoyle Website
Order “The GargoyleHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE

Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu:

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Andrew Davidson graduated in 1995 with a BA in English Literature from the University of British Columbia. He has worked as a teacher of English in Japan and a writer of English lessons for Japanese websites. “The Gargoyle” is his first book.

INTRODUCTION: I first heard of “The Gargoyle” on a book forum when it was mentioned as THE literary debut of 2008. I was curious and when I checked out an excerpt, I was immediately hooked and could not wait to get a copy of the book. I started the novel the day it arrived at my door and in two nights finished it, completely enthralled by the hypnotic prose that keeps you glued to its pages and a narrative, that by jumping between two time frames, increases the tension of the novel, making for a superb if occasionally horrifying experience.

SETTING:The Gargoyle” mainly alternates between a contemporary story thread in and near an unnamed US city close to an ocean—presumably Los Angeles from the implied clues—and a medieval storyline set in 14th century Germany, although there are detours to various places including a Viking-era Iceland, Victorian England, medieval Japan, and Dante’s Hell, or a close approximation thereof.

FORMAT/INFO: The ARC of “The Gargoyle” that I have stands at 465 pages divided over XXXIII Latin-numbered chapters. The book is mostly narrated in the first-person, present-tense, via our unnamed main character—a once amoral, cynical, and successful porn actor/director and drug addict who is currently a burned cripple recovering from a terrible car accident. In contrast to this narrative, there are interludes that grow in length and intensity, featuring the other main character, Marianne Engel, a mysteriously rich and very popular sculptor of gargoyles who is occasionally hospitalized for schizophrenia. These interludes are presented in the first-person, past-tense and mostly deal with Marianne’s early life as a monastery-raised orphan in 14th century Germany, her meeting with our narrator as a wounded and badly burned mercenary then, and their presumed life together.

August 5, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Gargoyle” via Doubleday Books. The UK edition (see inset) will be released September 25, 2008 via Canongate Books. US cover designed by Amanda Dewey.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:The Gargoyle” starts with the vivid description of the drug-induced car accident that burns and cripples our narrator. After a mixture of explicit burn treatment descriptions and a short but cynical and darkly funny review of his life experience, Marianne Engel makes her appearance as a temporary psychiatric patient in the same hospital, and takes over both him and the novel. These first fifty pages are the hardest ones to read from the novel since they involve very explicit and sometimes stomach-turning descriptions of burn injuries, their highly painful treatment procedures, and assorted induced nightmares, but the matter-of-fact cynical tone and the backstory interludes make the scenes bearable. And they are necessary for only in the crucible of pain, humiliation and the knowledge that it’s a life sentence can the narrator move beyond the disgusting person that he once was. So even if you find those pages horrifying, persevere, especially once Marianne Engel makes her entrance because you will be hooked by the mystery that she represents as well as her larger-than-life persona.

Providing an added dimension to the book is the rest of the hospital staff and their numerous memorable scenes that could be quite mawkish in the hands of a less talented writer. Of these, a Christmas hospital party, a Japanese therapist escaping a stultifying life in her country, and a likable shrink are some of the highlights in this part of the novel.

Soon discharged from the hospital, Marianne returns repeatedly and slowly gains the trust of the dedicated doctor treating our narrator, while our narrator starts becoming addicted to her visits. When she mysteriously stops visiting for a week, he is very distressed and returns to his elaborated suicide plans after discharge, but then Marianne returns and explains that the gargoyles that she sculpts are actually “alive” and “talk” to her demanding her full dedication to finishing them, thus explaining her occasional disappearances. But are these merely ravings of a sick woman that refuses to take her medications once she leaves the hospital?

And there is a hitch. Marianne endows each of her gargoyles with a heart from her large but not unlimited supply of hearts inside her, and the last heart is supposedly for him. More ravings?

And then of course the medieval interludes start, and despite his initial mocking and disbelief, the narrator gets drawn into the story with us. From here, the book is impossible to put down, demanding to be finished and concludes with an ending that is very well done and brings the story full circle. Many passages from the novel remained with me for a long time and I would go and reread them from time to time. I expect I will reread this novel several more times to fully experience its texture and wonderful prose.

With echoes of several famous novels, but written in a very personal and accomplished style, “The Gargoyle” makes a well deserving claim to being THE literary debut of the year. By turns, it will horrify you, it will enchant you, it may even bewitch you, but ultimately you will fall in love with “The Gargoyle” because it is impossible not to care about our narrator, Marianne and their epic love story across the gulf of time, space, and even the gates of Hell…

Highly, highly recommended.

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