Friday, August 27, 2010

Book 92: The Gargoyle

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

This is actually the second copy of this book that I have bought. A while back, I ordered the paperback when it was released, and brought it to work with me one a day that involved a trip to our higher unit an hour and half away. I had another novel with me that I needed to finish, and this was supposed to be the back up. When we got back to the office, I left this novel in the laptop bag, and then a few days later, realized that the bag had gone missing. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a hardcover version of this novel a few weeks ago at Barnes and Noble for $6 so I decided to try again.

The reason I didn't rush to replace my copy sooner is that I had read the first few pages before I put it in the bag, and I wasn't exactly sold. The narrator seemed like quite the asshole, to be honest. However, I'd heard enough positive feedback to not write it off completely. The novel really was amazing. Davidson never claims to give any answers so the reader can interpret the story the way they want at the end, which I liked.

The narrator begins his story with his crash - driving home from a party one night, high on coke, he believes that someone is shooting flaming arrows at him from the woodline, and crashes his car right off the top of a ravine. The car catches fire, trapping him inside (he had also spilled bourbon on himself right before the crash, excellerating the destruction in the lap area). Miraculously, he survives, and the next few chapters explain exactly how damaged he was, and what the healing process would be comprised of. The narrator, however, has no desire to continue living - he has no family, no friends, has lost his looks and sense of self and identity. He is a porn star and director that has been extremely burned over most of his body, and due to the bourbon, his penis was burned off. He only looks forward to leaving the hospital so that he can end his life undisturbed.

One day while in the recovery ward, a woman visits him, Marianne Engel, and she claims to know him. The narrator quickly recognizes that she is a patient on the psych ward, but is intrigued by her. She continues to visit even after her release, and the nurses and doctor that have been treating him notice the positive effect she has on his psyche and attitude.

Marianne believes that she knew the narrator in the early 1300s when he was also extensively burned (by flaming arrows). During their meetings and her visits, Marianne tells him various stories, and assists with his physical therapy. She tells him the story of her life in the monastery Engelthal in 1300s Germany, and how they ended up meeting. She also tells him four other love stories, stories about incredible sacrifice and devotion, and fires and arrows become recurring themes in the novel. At first I wondered if Marianne believed that these stories were reincarnations of her and the narrator, but it honestly didn't matter to me either way by the end. They were beautiful stories that fit in perfectly with the rest of the novel.

The narrator suspects that Marianne has schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or possibly both. However, he is also incredibly drawn to her. She is incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable, speaking several languages, and the narrator talks about the extremes to which she goes - for example, one evening she brings a Mediterranean inspired meal for him to eat, and she brought just about everything that would pop into someone's head at that concept (I admit that section made me hungry) - this went along with the Italian love story. There were equivalents for the Japanese love story, and the English and Icelandic ones.

I loved how this novel really isn't that easy to define and how it is part a collection of love stories and part historical fiction among other things. Marianne is a sculptor of grotesques (not to be confused with gargoyles), and, of course, the narrator is now a gargoyle come to life. As I said, the novel doesn't give answers - if as a reader, you want to believe that Marianne is crazy, it clearly wouldn't be that far fetched; however, you can also choose to believe her, and that they have known each other before. Personally, I like the idea of believing in Marianne's version of the truth.

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