All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson

on July 19, 2010

I read a review for this book somewhere on the Internetz and thought it sounded interesting so I added it to The List. The List is kept in a notebook which lives with me while I’m surfing around and I jot down books I’d like to read or check out further. So I added The Gargoyle and then stumbled across it during Booktopia’s latest sale so I snapped it up.

Every now and then, one of those novels comes along. Something that’s different from anything else you’ve ever read before. It might not be the most brand new, unique idea in the world, but it’s new to you. That is what The Gargoyle was like for me. I loved it, from the very first page. It is not really the sort of book I could see myself loving (for reasons I shall explain) but it proved me wrong upon pretty much every level.

Our narrator is never named, so I’ll just refer to him from now on as The Narrator. The book opens with a reflection upon his accident. He’s driving in a car, bottle of bourbon between his legs, when suddenly, he sees (or more importantly, thinks he sees) a hail of flaming arrows coming at him. He swerves, stuff happens, he goes down an embankment/cliff type thing and whoosh! up goes the car in flames. The bottle of bourbon provides a lovely accelerant and The Narrator turns into a crispy critter. Only the car tipping into a nearby creek saves his life. But he suffers absolutely horrific burns (some classified as ‘fourth degree’) to most of his body and if you’re of faint heart, you may want to skip the next few pages. It is rather graphic in its description of his injuries and the treatment and I have to admit, my stomach flipped a couple of times, especially during the description of using some sort of razor to slough away dead flesh and the agony that inflicted but anyways. That bit is really just filler.

The Narrator was beautiful before the accident, something he is preoccupied with, as he is a mess of charred and scarred flesh now. He’s now a monster, grotesque. His physical perfection is nothing but a bitter memory. He is missing fingers, toes and more importantly, his penis. Given that he was an actor in pornographic films, he is of the opinion that his life is over now and his days are spent constructing elaborate fantasies of the perfect suicide, which he will put into practice upon his release from hospital. His friends from the porn industry fall away, he has no family, no significant other. There’s no one he is close to. His life really does seem quite hopeless and pathetic, when one day, in hospital, he has a visitor.

Marianne Engel is a little different, from the beginning. She’s dressed in a hospital gown, her hair is wild, she talks like she knows him. She tells him “this is the 3rd time you have been burned” and that she (and him, really) are both 700 years old. She’s dressed in a gown, but not the ones the visitors wear in the burn units – she’s a patient and her wrist bracelet ID’s her as a psychiatric patient.

From the appearance of Marianne, the story changes and the book centres around her visits to the burn ward. She comes often, even after she is released from the psych ward, and when she’s not working ‘freeing the gargoyles’ – sculpting little creatures from blocks of solid stone. She tells him stories, love stories, from Viking Iceland, Victorian England, Japan and of course, ‘their’ own back story – how they met in 14th century Germany after he was burned ‘the first time’  and while she was being raised in the famous monastery Engelthal, and all that followed after that.

The way this novel unfolds is second to none. The story telling (the actual novel itself and Marianne’s stories within the story) is superb. I was sucked in from the first page. I’m not much of a mystic – I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, I don’t believe in re-incarnation, or God’s work, or anything like that. If I’d known more about this book than I did, I probably would never have read it. I tend to avoid novels that deal with God or mysticism, or faith, in any capacity. And yes, I know I probably miss some wonderful novels that way, and indeed, would’ve missed this one. But I didn’t know enough to avoid it and I’m all the richer for that!  This novel deals with God and faith in that Marianne talks a lot of the time she (supposedly/apparently) spent in the monastery and the faith she had at that time, and faith indeed is a long running theme. Faith in love, faith in trust, faith in what will be, will be. And even though religion was a major theme in this book, and in the stories Marianne tells, I didn’t find that detracted at all from anything. The stories Marianne tells The Narrator are incredible – compelling and touching and wonderful. And so is the overall story wrapped around the tales.

Is Marianne insane? Is all of this an elaborate fantasy of hers, lived out in her mind? Is she drawn to The Narrator because of his burns and how ingrained burns are in this fantasy? Or is she for real –  were they tragic lovers so long ago? I think the book gives you plenty to decide for yourself, whether you choose to believe in the impossible, or revel in the fact that it’s the fantasy of a paranoid, deranged, mentally ill woman. Although her diagnosis remains fluid The Narrator reads up as much as he can on both schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder to better try understand this woman he becomes so intimately entwined with. We only have his narrative to go on and he makes no secret of the heavy amounts of morphine he’s using at the time, and that he’s not entirely in his own right mind. I found the way The Narrator’s depression was written was awesome – although the end was a little too heavy handed for my tastes.

A really wonderfully written piece of literature. This is why I read books – to escape in the full, whole hearted way into other worlds that I did whilst reading this novel. If you like your novels a little off kilter, a little different and your imagination allows you to suspend some disbelief (and you’re not easily nauseated), read this book. Read it now!

8/10

(Book #42 of my 50 Book Challenge)


One response to “The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson

  1. […] Written Book of 2010: Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger, In The Woods, by Tana French, The Gargoyle, by Andrew […]

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