Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

imagedbThis fantastic debut novel starts off with a handsome, reckless, drug addicted pornographer getting into a fiery crash after his car careens off a hilltop road. Within minutes he has lost everything-looks, career, money- all up in flames. The reader can almost see his skin bubble, smell his flesh burn, and feel his horror and pain.

He wakes up scorched weeks later in an ICU burn unit. Following are gruesome scenes during his burn treatment; excruciating graphic details about pain, debridement, skin grafting, and surgeries. In an ironic twist of fate, he has had a penectomy- the pornographer spilled alcohol in his lap shortly before the fire and his penis was burnt to a crisp. If not for his wry sense of humor it would have been difficult to get through these pages. His doctors, nurses, and physical therapists are committed to his recovery and work tirelessly over the course of many months to bring him back to health.

This man’s past isn’t pretty- a childhood spent with neglectful drug addicted foster parents, followed by success in a porn career, and a string of meaningless relationships has left him feeling empty. He has no family and few visitors. His production company collapses without him and goes bankrupt. The only thing that keeps our hero going are thoughts of suicide after his release. After all, his days are filled with suffering, and physically he’s a monster- who could ever care about him again?

Enter Marianne Engel- a beautiful, tatooed, passionate psychiatric patient who claims to know him (“I’ve been waiting such a long time”). Is she schizophrenic? Manic-depressive? Does it even matter? He knows she’s crazy but doesn’t care; she’s his only regular visitor, and she tells a great story.

The Gargoyle follows the man’s recovery as he leaves the hospital to move in with Marianne, who offers to finance everything (she’s made buckets of money carving gargoyles, or ‘grotesques’, from slabs of stone, and sells them in a gallery to wealthy collectors). Against the advice of his doctors, he puts his continued care into her hands. Life with Marianne proves to be quite interesting, though, as she goes through manic episodes of intense creativity, and he becomes increasingly dependant on morphine to dull his pain. The novel weaves their current story with medieval tales of romance, legend, mysticism and adventure, of courageous people sacrificing everything they have for true love. Marianne begins to tell him “their” story of when they were lovers in 14th Century Germany and for all his skepticism, in the end he’s persuaded to investigate further.

The only part of the book I wasn’t into was the narrator’s trip through the fires of hell as he withdraws from morphine and releases the “bitchsnake” from his spine. The Christian mythology is dense and confusing at that point and I found myself skimming whole pages because it goes on too long (for me). Other than that one section, which is near the end, I flew through The Gargoyle, enjoying it immensely. It’s a gripping, unique book that I would highly recommend.

Book clubs would have a lot to talk over with this one!  For perhaps the most interesting reader’s guide I’ve ever seen, click HERE.

19 Responses

  1. I adored this book and loved the ambiguity of the ending and the way the reader is left to wonder about Marianne Engel’s true identity. I liked the Inferno-esque trip through hell, but I do think you need some familiarity with that text to appreciate it within The Gargoyle. Glad you enjoyed this great book!

  2. I absolutely loved this book!

  3. A great book, the early pages where the ones I found most difficult to get through because they where a little to vivid and made me cringe loads

  4. This is still on my TBR list. What an in-depth review! Now I really want to read it.

  5. I loved this book too. Great review.

  6. My husband made a point of letting me know this own appeared on the worst book list in EW for last year. That and The Lace Reader, both of which seem to get more positive reviews online among bloggers than not. Goes to show how varying tastes can be, I guess.

    I have this one on my shelf to read and am really looking forward to it. I am so glad you enjoyed it!

  7. Hi guys, thanks for the comments. Lit. Feline, I saw that review on a blog (Jen at Lit. Housewife had it) and I chose not to read it before reading the book, just to keep an open mind. But I did go back just now, because your comment reminded me, and I had a good laugh. There is a sentence mentioned in the EW review that I also noticed while reading the book and even read aloud to my husband, as it was so ridiculous (WAY WAY too much alliteration!!) And then there was another sentence mentioned in the review that also leapt out at me (about the cheese string, LOL). I read that one to my husband too, because it was so stupid! We laughed so hard! SO I sort of agreed with the EW review, at least with those two points, but those small flaws didn’t detract from the overall experience of the book for me, which I found otherwise fantastic.

  8. I thought the dream was weird too but I still think it was the best thing I read last year.

  9. Your opinion of this book is just like mine. The only part of the book I didn’t like was the bitchsnake, journey through hell thing. I found myself rushing that part, as well. But, I loved some of the stories. Can you read my review now? I didn’t use the penectomy word… very good vocabulary word! I’ll have to use it in my every day vernacular!

    Glad you liked it.

  10. I keep hearing about this book but I haven’t sprung for it. Perhaps it’s too much of an intellectual challenge.

  11. Sheri, great review!

    Chris, it really was good! Best book of 2009, so far!! LOL

    Annie, I borrowed it from the library, so I didn’t spring for it either! I don’t think you’d find it too intellectually challenging at all.

  12. Sheri, I will be looking for ways to work “penectomy” into my everyday vocabulary as well, LOL!!

  13. Great review! I’ll be readin this with my book club this year so I’m taking note of the guide you mentioned!

  14. This sounds like a great read! I’m especially interested in the parts where the author weaves in tales of ancient romance and love stories; plus, as morbid as it sounds, there is something so incredibly interesting about manic depressives, at least in literature.

  15. […] been to a burn unit with a pornographer who’s been horribly disfigured from a car accident and then falls in love […]

  16. […] been to a burn unit with a pornographer who’s been horribly disfigured from a car accident and then falls in love with […]

  17. […] completely enthralling and utterly unique, and one I would have been sorry to miss.  Judging from the comments left on my review, I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed […]

  18. If you can make it through the beginning, it is a very good book…a little strange, but creative and a good read.

  19. Forgot to check that I want feedback..hope this is ok to do it this way.

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