• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    The HKIA brings Hong… on [788] Island and Peninsula 島與半…
    Adamos on The Master and Margarita:…
    sumithra MAE on D.H. Lawrence’s Why the…
    To Kill a Mockingbir… on [35] To Kill A Mockingbird…
    Deanna Friel on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
    Minnie on [367] The Rouge of the North 怨…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 1,081,327 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,710 other followers

[209] The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson

Gargoyle“I was born beautiful and lived beautiful for thirty-plus years, and during all that time I never once allowed my soul to know love . . . Only after I was born into physical repulsiveness did I come to glimpse the possibilities of the heart.” [370-1]

The anonymous narrator of The Gargoyle is a pornographic actor who, while driving along a dark road, is distracted by what appears to him to be a flight of arrows. Dodging the arrows, his car skids off the road, crashes into a ravine, and suffers severe burns all over his body. During convalescence he conceives a plan of suicide. But a mysterious visitor who appears at the foot of his bed might convert this cynic to love. Marianne Engel is a sculptress of gargoyles who tells the narrator that they were lovers in medieval times, some 700 years ago.

Hence unfolds is a second narrative, the medieval story, told by Marianne herself, about her being adopted by a priest at Engelthal in Germany in 1315. Her talent in languages established her to be the most prolific scribe whose literary fingerprints had far exceeded that of any of her peers. The arrival of a wounded mercenary (hired to kill for wages) whom she carefully attended became a pretext of the prioress to expunge all her records from Engelthal. Could it also be the copy of Dante’s Inferno, which she secretly undertook to translate, that made her enemy to the Church?

The principal reason, I believe, that her body so thrilled mine was this: her body affected me as if it were not only human, but also as something that approached memory and ghost. [351]

Which is what makes the novel memorable, almost whimsical: Serendipity. Memory and ghost loosely link the two narratives that impose many questions in readers’ mind. Was Marianne Engel really the narrator’s lover in the past life? Or she is just a mad woman, a schizophrenic who holds out too much hope based upon a fictional past? Having lived in moral vacuum, the narrator recognizes love is Marianne’s soul’s natural condition and not “an aberration built on fantasies.” The past life and the wheel of incarnation render this love affair redemptive.

Nevertheless, I was certain that it did have meaning; the more time I spent with Marianne Engel, the more certain I became that all things are inexplicably connected. [144]

. . . I’m not forgetting that this is ludicrous and could not have actually occurred. I’m simply pointing out that, at least, the impossible things were occurring in a possible timeline. This is what I find rather amazing about her mental state: her wild statements were held together by internal consistency. [159]

I cannot make of Davidson’s wide arrays of imaginative tangents, ranging from earth’s four elements to the levels of Dante’s Hell, to literary styles of Nabakov and Bulgakov. One thing for sure is Marianne’s fables that gradually changes the recovering narrator’s state of his heart from one that is forlorn to hopeful, for it was not until he was burned that he begins to feel. The contrived ironies that intersperse with the story within the story bespeak hope in face of adversity. Whereas skin represents one’s whole appearance, an emblem of identity, skin does not constitute who one really is, let alone the essence of the soul. The Gargoyle is both an allegory that renders ordinary laws irrelevant and a love story that transcends mortality.

465 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

23 Responses

  1. Well, the plot sounds wonderful. What I am wondering is why, exactly, did this book get completely TRASHED in EW? I mean, they not only trashed it, but named it as one of the ten worst books of 2008! They are usually spot on, so I avoided the book. But here is your review, and I’ve also read favorable reviews from Jackie and Jennifer. Maybe I’ll see if this one finds its way into my hands…

  2. For some reason, I’ve never paid much attention to this book. I didn’t have the slightest idea what it was about, but you’ve made it sound quite intriguing!

  3. I have this book but have been afraid to read it. But your review is really the first that has convinced me I should give it a go. Thanks for the great analysis!

  4. I saw the worst review of this book ever previously – ack, now I don’t know whom to believe! This does sound intriguing, and I love books where you’re not sure if someone’s crazy or not… I think I will check it out. Great review!

  5. I read and reviewed this book recently on my blog. I found it tremendously entertaining and loved the chain of episodes in the plot that read like a series of fables. However, after finishing the book, I got a definite feeling that I had been manipulated by a master.

  6. I think the problem is that this book tries to do too much. The descriptions of life as a burns victim were amazing. I loved his story, but found the historical sections too long and a bit pointless.

    Overall, it was great, but I wasn’t too sure what the author was trying to acheive by including all the tangents. I’m pleased you liked it though.

  7. I think it’s pretty difficult for a book to handle so much irony and so many tangents and then still come out okay. This seems like a book that some like but I can see why many might not enjoy this.

  8. This review is well written and I am thankful for your review. I have this book on the shelf to read, and I’ve heard some great reviews. This will keep my expectations to a lower level.

  9. I forgot about the stories to explain things. At first I wouldn’t have believed Marianne either. The descriptions of burn treatment and diagnosis was heart wrenching for me. Definitely not a trauma I ever want to experience.
    Excellent review Matt!

  10. I’ve read several good reviews about this book, and I’ve this in my pile too! I can’t wait to dive into it!

  11. This book is one that I’ve been wanting to read. I enjoy reading your reviews because they give me a lot to think about for sure!!

  12. Sandy:
    I think Davidson is trying too hard to impress with a combo of histories and supernatural to create a sort of an allegory. It’s quite impressive and he doesn’t leave all the bundles untied. It’s not a bad read.

  13. JoAnn:
    First I would like to congratulate your being my 10,000th commentator! Please send me an e-mail and I’ll send you the prize. 🙂

    The Gargoyle is a great weekend read if you wish to be surprised. It’s a bit of a suspense.

  14. rhapsodyinbooks:
    I’m glad the review convinces you. Hope you enjoy reading it. 🙂

  15. Jenny:
    The reviews in the media are split in the middle, and so are the customers’ reviews on Amazon. I got the book as an ARC last year but never came around reading it. I picked it up from the shelf because I thought it would be a light read. In a sense it’s an intriguing book if you work out all the connections.

  16. Gary Carden:
    I think the fables are what Davidson has intended, to be interwoven with the main plot, which is the recovery of the burned man. I also find it very entertaining although at one point I’m a bit confused and have to re-read what happened in Marianne Engel’s past life.

  17. Jackie (Farm Lane Books):
    I think the historical (past life) story is more of a device to make the book entertaining, to try to make readers aware this whole idea about past life. Since I’m a Buddhist, I believe in past life and incarnations. So this book intrigues me. 🙂

  18. Biblibio:
    Yes, he manages a tidy ending as well, which doesn’t disappoint me.

  19. sagustocox:
    I understand this is not going to be a very “high-brow” sort of book but it’s at least well-written. The narratives’ oscillation over time actually turn up pretty well.

  20. Jennygirl:
    In Marianne’s point of view, everything is believable. The reader has to decide whether she will buy her story, or just dismisses everything as crap imagined by a schizophrenic woman. I find that decision not possible until you have almost finished the book. The question that confronts me becomes whether or not I believe in past life.

  21. Melody:
    It’s a good easy read that will help while away an afternoon. 🙂

  22. Staci:
    The many open ends (which he does tie up at the end) leave a lot of room for discussion. This makes a great book club selection. 🙂

  23. I haven’t come across this book before but you make it sound very interesting. I’m not sure if I would want to spend a whole lot of time on it but you’ve made me curious enough to go and find a copy in a bookshop and read some for myself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: