by Andrew Davidson
The Gargoyle was enthralling. I loved it. In fact, this book has become my Favorite New Read of 2008, bumping The Lace Reader from the comfortable throne it occupied since late June. In fact, The Gargoyle may have made it all the way to my Top Ten Ever list, except that I have never bothered the create such a record since I’m pretty sure once I finally settle on ten titles in stone I’d want to shatter it to bits and start all over again. But yes, The Gargoyle was good.
An unhappy burn victim, formerly an Adonis and now hideously disfigured, is plotting his own demise when an enigmatic woman named Marianne Engel flutters into his room and begins telling him stories about a former life in which they were lovers in medieval Germany. She is a temporary mental patient at the hospital, and a sculptress who carves stone gargoyles(and apparently makes quite a bit of money in the process.) Beautiful but almost certainly mad – for how can her stories about living seven hundred years ago be true? – Marianne shares tales of lovers around the world, all joined together only by the strength of their emotions for the ones they care for, while trying to awaken the memories of their past relationship in the burned man (never named), who waxes from almost believing in her stories and complete denial.
The burned narrator would never have pulled out of his suicidal slump without the assistance of a fabulous cast of characters. In addition to Marianne, there’s his perky Japanese physical therapist, his nerdy-and-slightly-awkward psychologist, and strict, no-nonsense doctor, all of whom eventually form a little family for a man and each teaches the narrator a different kind of love.
The book draws from a vast reservoir of inspiration, from Dante’s Inferno and monastic life in the 14th century to psychology and modern Japanese culture. The narrator is near obsessive in his quest for information; when he wants to learn about something – for example, mental disorders so he can diagnose what’s wrong with Marianne – he absorbs huge quantities of information and along the way passes much along to the reader. Yet it never feels like an ‘info dump’ – like those awkward conversations frequent in historical novels, where a character will expound on a the history of some object or event in a way that would NEVER happen in reality – only part of the narrator’s journey. The book is simply fulfilling the tagline that was on my cover: All things in a single book bound by love.
One warning: The book can be quite graphic. In the first chapter the car accident that nearly killed the narrator and his horrible wounds are very explicitly explained; I’m quite squeamish normally and it did make me squirm to the point I almost put the book down. But I’m so glad I didn’t. Andrew Davidson’s first book is amazing, and absolutely worth any minor discomfort.
For those of you who have already read the book, what do you think?
- Marianne is completely certified crackers.
- Marianne really is seven hundred years old and needs to refer me to her face cream.