Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book Review - The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

**Spoiler Alert

A divine marriage of contemporary and historical fiction

The robust intensity and graphic imagery with which The Gargoyle began was so powerful that it incited corporeal revulsions of nausea and regurgitation. Determined not to give in to my weakness, I continued reading, though I had to continually remind myself that the terrifying scene playing out was the creation of an obviously brilliant imagination, as opposed to something that the author had actually experienced.

We begin with a loveless orphan, who in his attempts to survive in the world alone, created a mini-empire in the pornography industry, on the back of the only thing that he could rely on; his beauty. In the first few pages we learn how his reckless life falls apart… or does it?

After surviving a near-fatal car crash, due to hallucinations induced by drugs and alcohol, this unnamed anti-hero spends his days monstrously marred and permanently disfigured in the burn ward of the hospital, battling the ‘painsnake’ inhabiting his spine, and fantasizing over his eventual planned suicide. He is biding his time and calculating the most effective way to end it all, when his reality is turned upside down by a visit from a schizophrenic patient that has ventured out of the psychiatry wing.

It was through this eccentric storyteller, Marianne Engel, that I became mystified by Davidson’s creativity. What at first seemed to be ridiculous delusions from an unstable woman soon became the interconnected tales that transport us to Germany in the 1300s, where the love affair between these diametrically opposing characters was said to have first began.

As impossible as it is for our healing anti-hero to believe such fantastic stories, the genuine love and affection for Marianne, that he finds filling the void that has been his loveless existence, is enough to inspire a will to live that was once unimaginable. A lifetime spent using and seducing women, and a livelihood based on superficial beauty and degradation of the flesh was all but forgotten with his awakening to a life with true love.

“What an unexpected reversal of fate: only after my skin was burned away did I finally become able to feel. Only after I was born into physical repulsiveness did I come to glimpse the possibilities of the heart: I accepted this atrocious face and abominable body because they were forcing me to overcome the limitations of who I am, while my previous body allowed me to hide them.”

Love, religion, death and redemption are the predominant themes throughout the novel, not only through the main story, but also in the sub-stories of those that would eventually become our anti-hero’s protectors in his withdrawal journey through hell; the Japanese Buddhist, the Viking, the Italian ironworker, and the lady on the hill.

My one wish is that I would have read Dante’s Inferno before reading this novel, because much of the latter part of the story draws parallels to this historical work of poetry. Although prior exposure to Inferno is not necessary for the comprehension of The Gargoyle, I fear that I may have missed out on some of the references or implicit meanings Davidson included, without having read it first.

4/5 Snakes


  1. I loved this book! I had a chance to speak with Andrew Davidson when he was here in Vancouver. He is a lovely man gave more good insight into this work.

  2. How wonderful that you were able to meet him! It amazes me that this is only his first work, as his skills seem that of a seasoned veteran.

    I will be anxiously awaiting his next offering.

  3. Great review. I loved this book and reviewed it too but it's so short and generic I won't bother to leave a link. The few details I've read of Dante's circles of hell make me glad I hadn't read it first. The details of the burn unit were so real, although interesting and informative, that that was hell enough, so to speak, for me as reader. I too can't wait to see what he writes next.

  4. Thanks Sandra! I'm sure Dante's works would be very affecting, but I will indeed tackle them one day.

  5. Thanks for reminding me of this book! I had meant to read it when it first came out and for whatever reason forgot - I will have to pick it up now that it's out in paperback.

  6. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it, Karen.