Monday, July 21, 2008

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson - 468 pgs

Book CoverAfter a terrible accident leaves him burnt beyond recognition, the narrator of The Gargoyle begins to receive an odd visitor in the hospital where he is convalescing. Her name is Marianne Engel, and she seems to be mentally ill. Before long, Marianne is visiting frequently, spinning intricate tales to the fascinated narrator. Her fables involve gifted artists, hardworking landowners, outcast orphans; all ill-fated lovers, all with stunningly touching stories. One story though, seems more puzzling than most. Marianne reveals the story of the past. It is the story of the love between the burnt man and Marianne herself, lovers long ago in Medieval Germany. As he begins to heal, the narrator becomes more involved in the stories of the strange woman, not knowing whether to believe in her mental instability, or in the impossible story she tells. Gradually, the lines of perception begin to blur, and the curious story begins to take on its own life, leading the injured man towards the realms of the unimaginable that will culminate in the cataclysmic bowels of hell.

I found this book completely immersing. The atmosphere was deliciously dark and the author's handling of the plot was extraordinarily deft. The story pulled me in and never let up until the stirring ending. The graphic depictions of the narrator's severe burns and subsequent treatment was a little unsettling, but it was extremely well researched and related with an uncommon elegance as to be informative and interesting, as well as shocking and horrific. Though serious in nature, the book also had moments of sardonic humor and exceptional moments of insight. The main story was folded among various other smaller stories, with particular focus on the story of fourteenth century Germany. Each successive story in the narrative grew in focus and detail and all were extremely captivating.

The narrator, who remains unarmed throughout the book, was a bit churlish and cynical, yet I had no problems relating to him or finding sympathy for his character. The talent of the author in his ability to make an unlovable character moving and sympathetic was impressive. I rooted for him to find his way and learn to accept the myriad changes that he must learn to deal with. His eventual bravery in the face of overwhelming obstacles was a heartening change from the self-pity and suicidal despair that first enveloped him. It was as though through each successive chapter I could see the character growing and changing, his mind becoming more resolved, his heart opening and becoming more accepting. It was a tremendous feat to witness. Marianne was also an alluring and compassionate character whose inconsistencies and frailties were depicted in a tolerant and open-minded way, something that is not afforded to most eccentrics. Her struggles with her artistic vision and her fantastical beliefs were never overplayed or too dramatic. Her certainty and determination were admirable, and the passion with which she drove herself was both frightening and formidable. It was interesting to see the two of them react to each other's differences, and to watch their growing attachment unfold. A more unlikely pair could scarce be imagined.

This story will appeal to a wide audience, but the vivid detail of the burn information may be off-putting to some. I feel that the story was actually enhanced by this level of detail. It was extremely believable and accurate, and it heightened the story's impact and made me understand the character's situation all the more readily and believably. The information regarding mental illness was also authentic and informative. As well as advancing the plot, it provided a wealth of character description and enhancement that would have been laborious done any other way. The story was as compelling as the style in which it was written. Some of the passages were downright conspiratorial and secretive, while others were flowing and beautiful. This book had no easy answers. The subject matter was difficult, but ultimately rewarding and thought provoking.

This is a book that I can see reading over and over again, and taking away something different each time. I have not enjoyed a book more than this one in a long, long while. I was amazed to find out that this is Davidson's first novel. He strikes me as an interesting man who has a uncommon perspective on many things. As a writer, he is very impressive. I think this book is destined to be a big hit, and deservedly so. I consider it an instant favorite. Highly recommended.


Marg said...

I have added a link to your review!

This is definitely a book I can imagine reading again.

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