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The Gargoyleby Andrew Davidson
Like Diana Gabaldon, Andrew Davidson immerses you in a different reality and takes you on a roller-coaster ride. This is an unusual story about the power of love to transcend physical limitations and to transform ugliness into beauty. It's all in the eyes of the beholder, as we are often told. This book makes you believe that simple truth.
Synopses & Reviews
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 tells him 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 only has 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.
"At the start of Davidson's powerful debut, the unnamed narrator, 'a coke-addled pornographer,' drives his car off a mountain road in a part of the country that's never specified. During his painful recovery from horrific burns suffered in the crash, the narrator plots to end his life after his release from the hospital. When a schizophrenic fellow patient, Marianne Engel, begins to visit him and describe her memories of their love affair in medieval Germany, the narrator is at first skeptical, but grows less so. Eventually, he abandons his elaborate suicide plan and envisions a life with Engel, a sculptress specializing in gargoyles. Davidson, in addition to making his flawed protagonist fully sympathetic, blends convincing historical detail with deeply felt emotion in both Engel's recollections of her past life with the narrator and her moving accounts of tragic love. Once launched into this intense tale of unconventional romance, few readers will want to put it down." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In the opening pages of "The Gargoyle," Andrew Davidson's outrageous new novel, a pornographer high on cocaine runs his car off a mountain road. The vehicle bursts into flames and burns him to a crisp. Welcome to the pain-riddled world of an acerbic, 35-year-old man who loses everything in those fiery minutes: his career, his fortune, his skin — all broiled away. This is a story for people who like... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) their literary entertainment well done. Following close behind David Wroblewski's "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" and Brunonia Barry's "The Lace Reader," "The Gargoyle" is another in this summer's extraordinary series of million-dollar debuts from unknown writers that combine elements of mystery and mysticism. After that explosive opening scene, the narrator of "The Gargoyle" awakens in an ICU burn unit, "looking like last week's dim sum." He's been in a coma for seven weeks: "A heat shield kept my body warm enough to survive," he tells us, "a ventilator did my breathing, and I collected enough blood transfusions to shame Keith Richards." His caustic humor provides brief moments of respite during the stomach-wrenching pages that follow. To save his life, doctors repeatedly carve away his "broiled flesh," make broad incisions to accommodate swelling tissue and staple on new sheets of cadaver skin. "There I lay," he says, "wearing dead people as an armor against death." Davidson has obviously researched such burn cases in depth, and he spares us nothing of this medical treatment, some of which he reportedly learned about by corresponding with a burn survivor. I dare you to read this without flinching. It's as engrossing as it is gruesome, the kind of horror you read with one eye closed. As the patient regales us with his sad personal history — abusive foster parents, a lucrative career in porn, a string of meaningless relationships — his treatment progresses from one excruciating step to the next. But there's no hope: "I could endure a thousand surgeries," he realizes, "and I'd still be a blister of a human being. There is no cure for what I am ... a spent, struck match ... an unbeloved monster." Once startlingly handsome, now he looks forward only to the day when he's well enough to crawl out of the hospital and kill himself. But into this pit of despair comes an odd visitor who propels the novel along for the next 400 pages: A psychiatric patient named Marianne enters his room and announces that they were lovers in 14th-century Germany: "I've been waiting such a long time," she says. He doesn't believe her for a moment, of course, even though she's "dressed in a cloak that appeared to be of the finest medieval cut." He assumes she's schizophrenic, but since her visits provide a break from the agonizing skin grafts, he plays along. That's good for him — and us. Throughout the long story that follows, Marianne remains a mysterious figure, her sanity constantly in question even after we find her too interesting to care if she's crazy. She's the world's greatest sculptor of gargoyles, or "grotesques" as she sometimes calls them. She sleeps naked on slabs in the basement of her castle-like house. "I absorb the dreams of the stone," she tells him, "and the gargoyles inside tell me what I need to do to free them. ... It's like I'm digging a survivor out from underneath the avalanche of time." It's no coincidence that she's passionately, unconditionally devoted to this man encased in charred flesh. Best of all, she tells him fantastic old stories: edge-of-your-seat, chivalric tales about lovers whose devotion transcended death. These scenes are unabashedly, extravagantly romantic — half scholarship, half balderdash — good enough to make him forget his pain, good enough to make you forget yours! She's got warring Vikings and Japanese feudal lords and, best of all, the dazzling adventures of their own romance back in the 1300s when Marianne was a brilliant translator in the Engelthal monastery and he was a brutal mercenary struck by a flaming arrow (only a copy of Dante's "Inferno" over his heart saved him). The thrilling installments of their first life together leap from cliff to cliff, filling in the details of a passion that nothing could extinguish. (For a break, she reads to him from her own translation of Dante's "Inferno," a story she assumes he'll find "very familiar.") As the novel moves forward, the question of Marianne's psychosis — or is it deception? — grows more pressing. She anticipates and pays for everything he needs, but the narrator must decide whether to cling to his skepticism or let his heart accept the persuasive power of her dedication. For a bitterly cynical, drug-popping, alcoholic, this is a considerable leap of faith, but eventually that's the most important action of "The Gargoyle": the story of a man who, having been consumed by fire, finally finds a woman to melt his heart. "Only after my skin was burned away," he says in a rare moment of sappiness, "did I finally become able to feel." The Christian mythology gets a bit heavy toward the end, and "The Gargoyle" is overcooked by at least 75 pages, but nothing is certain in this swirling novel of tales and legends. The narrator has seen enough horror movies to know that "a burn victim may 'get the girl' — but usually only with a pickax." After all, he admits, "Marianne Engel's love for me seemed built on so flimsy a premise that I assumed it would come apart." Nothing he — or you — can assume about this spectacularly imaginative journey will help navigate its twists and turns. Before it's all over, like Dante before him, our narrator must visit Hades, and like every chapter of "The Gargoyle," that's a hell of a story, too. Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World. He can be reached at charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Davidson's debut is storytelling at its finest, featuring a lively assortment of characters and events that combine in a gripping drama that will keep readers' attention through the very last page. An essential summer book; highly recommended." Library Journal
"The Gargoyle is purely and simply an amazement, a riot, a blast. It's hard to believe that this is Andrew Davidson's first novel: He barrels out of the chute with the narrative brio and confidence, not to mention the courage, of a seasoned master. This book plucks the reader off the ground and whirls her through the air until she shouts from sheer abandonment and joy. What a great, grand treat." Peter Straub
"I was blown away by Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle, It reminded me of Life of Pi, with its unanswered (and unanswerable) contradictions. A hypnotic, horrifying, astonishing novel that manages, against all odds, to be redemptive." Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants
"A romance spanning centuries and continents finds a grotesque narrator redeemed by the love of a woman who claims they first met seven centuries earlier, in this deliriously ambitious debut novel. This spellbinding narrative [is] a credit to the craftsmanship of the Canadian writer." Kirkus Reviews
"A transportingly unhinged debut novel." New York Times
"First he gives us a story that sweeps us in with no protest. You want to be lost in its pages, immersed in the unfolding tale of the human gargoyle and a flesh and blood wraith. In the final analysis, the real tragedy of this book is that it ends." New York Daily News
"Working with a palette of recurring symbols — fire, water, arrowheads, hearts — Mr. Davidson paints an engaging if not scintillating tableau. It is, at least, a large one: There is physical suffering and spiritual elation, suicide, rebirth and redemption — all of it fraught with visions of hell." Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Andrew Davidson was born in Pinawa, Manitoba, and graduated in 1995 from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. in English literature. He has worked as a teacher in Japan, where he has lived on and off, and as a writer of English lessons for Japanese websites. The Gargoyle, the product of seven years' worth of research and composition, is his first book. Davidson lives in Pinawa, Manitoba.
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