Blair's Reviews > The Gargoyle

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
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Jul 09, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: read-on-kindle, past-and-present, magical-and-macabre, 2000-09-release, first-novels
Read in January, 2011

The Gargoyle tells the story of a nameless narrator, a porn star, womaniser and coke addict, whose life is dramatically altered when he crashes his car in the midst of a drug-induced hallucination. Waking in a hospital bed, he finds his body and face horribly, and irreparably, burned. While he recuperates, he is visited by an enigmatic woman, Marianne Engel - a psychiatric outpatient and, the narrator speculates, possibly manic-depressive and/or schizophrenic - who claims the two of them were lovers in a past life, in fourteenth-century Germany. As she tells him the story of 'their' past together, the narrator finds himself slowly transformed from a suicidal misanthrope into a much happier man as, despite his horrific injuries (including the loss of his penis) he falls in love with Marianne and forms friendships with those who surround him.

This book has been out for a while and it's something I'd considered reading before, but could never quite decide on - a combination of a plot that, for some reason, didn't 100% appeal to me, and mixed reviews from others. But I'm so glad I did eventually decide to read it. It kept surprising me, again and again - it was so much more than I expected it to be. The story is split into two first-person narratives (the narrator's present-day record of his time in hopsital and gradual recovery, and Marianne's description of her past life as a medieval nun) alongside a number of other stories Marianne tells the narrator; tales of love and loss from across the ages and around the world. Later, as the narrator imagines himself in hell as he battles morphine addiction, there's an absolutely fantastic chapter which reworks Dante's Inferno and revisits the heroes of Marianne's stories, who return as ghosts to guide him through the underworld. The sections describing the narrator's burns and the agonising surgeries he has to endure are very graphic, often painful to read, but they do a great job of making his plight seem very real to the reader and, ultimately, make his redemption all the more remarkable and moving.

There was one thing that really annoyed me all the way through, however - the narrator refers to Marianne by her full name, Marianne Engel, every time he mentions her, even when her name is shown numerous times on the same page. If there was an actual reason for this, I couldn't figure it out. I can't stand it when authors do this - so unnecessary, it's hardly as if there's any danger of her being confused with another character! It says a lot for the last few chapters that by the time I reached them, I was so involved in the story that it (finally) stopped aggravating me quite as much.

Quite often I read books I expect to enjoy when I begin them; this was an unknown quantity, and it impressed me so much. The message, as far as the book has one, is predictable (of course, the narrator ends up happier as a disfigured 'freak' with a mentally ill partner than he ever was as a beautiful, affluent man with all the sex and drugs he could wish for; he learns the value of love and friendship because of his injuries, finally chooses to remain that way, etc) but its delivery is unique. Nothing about the story was what I expected it to be, and the penultimate chapter almost moved me to tears. An excellent read, highly recommended.
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Reading Progress

01/07/2011
53.0% "Finding time to read is tough at the moment, but I am really enjoying this."

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