Friday, August 15, 2008

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

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.

This book took me a while to finish, not because it wasn't good, but because I loved it. It is one of those rare books that you can't wait to finish because you have to know what happens, while at the same time, you can't bear to see it end. I found myself reading slower and slower over the last 100 pages, just to have the experience last a little longer.

I loved how this story winds back on itself. There were a few times I would wonder about the sequence of events or how a situation really fit into the story, but, more often than not, they were neatly tied together in the end. My one complaint was that the focal point would switch during flashbacks and Marianne would be telling the story instead of the narrator. The narrator told us this would happen, and yet, almost every time I would have to back track a bit to see who was talking. Maybe it was just my bad luck that I seemed to set the book down at these voice shifts.

The one aspect of the story that I really wondered about was how Marianne found the narrator, and how she knew that this was her long lost love. She tells him throughout the book how their stories intertwine and how she knows he is the one, but she never says how she comes to find him in the first place.

I have never read Inferno and wonder if I missed out on some of the more subtle connections between the two stories. Even without having read it, the basic story line of Inferno is well enough known that I still recognized the setting, and hope I didn't miss out on too much.

One word of warning, some of the descriptions of the narrators burns and their treatment were fairly graphic, and could be disturbing to some.

This story, with it's unanswerable questions, will be rolling around in my head for quite a while. The characters made a lasting impression, and I found myself flipping back through the book to re-read sections, which I rarely do. This is one of the best books I have read in quite a while and is a wonderful first novel. 5 stars

Order The Gargoyle from Amazon


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I loved your review and can't wait to read this book; it appears the hype is justified. Thanks for posting.

Minding Spot said...

I've never heard of this book, but it just got added to my WL. Your review is wonderful!! Can't wait to read this one.

Anonymous said...

What a great review! I have this book (actually received two, and am running a giveaway of the second), but it hasn't hit my nightstand yet.

I loved the opening paragraph of your review, even without yet introducing the gargoyle you've set the scene wonderfully!

Anonymous said...

Glad you loved it! I think this is easily one of the best books of the year.

pinkcypress said...

I'm so anxious to get my hands on this book! I've called dibs on a friend's copy, but who knows when she'll get to it!