As the last of my Costco book table purchases, I read The Gargoyle at my daughter Dee-Dee’s suggestion. As I mentioned in a previous post, my daughter Colie picked out Water for Elephants, because I collect elephants, and I purchased it from Costco. As Dee-Dee is one of the “always competing” twins, she picked out The Gargoyle and told me that she thought I would like it because I liked Season of the Witch. OK… so, I bought them both and have already read and reviewed Water for Elephants. Picture now, Dee-Dee bugging me… “Mom, when are you going to read the book that I picked out for you?”
“Next, babe, next… I promise.”
First, let’s just say that I thought this book was VERYgood! I’m a bit surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. The book is very different than the types of books that I typically gravitate towards. Just goes to show that “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover!” Oh, and Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants , quotes on the back of the book cover:
“I was blown away by Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle. It reminded me of Life of Pi, with its unanswered (and unanswerable) contradictions. A hypnotic, horrifying, astonishing novel that manages, against all odds, to be redemptive.”
Book Website: www.thegargoyle.com
This novel is a bit difficult to describe, in terms of a story-line… at least, for me. This novel has a main story, which is the tale of the narrator (I don’t think we ever get his name). He was a “porno” star, drug addict, very dark and obviously unhappy man. One night, high on drugs, he’s driving a windy road and suffers a haleucination of a “flight of arrows” coming towards him. To avoid the arrows, he crashes off of the road and heads down a ravine. The car catches fire and he nearly dies…. but, the car eventually falls into a creek and he is saved by the water.
He undergoes extensive treatment in a burn-ward of a hospital. There, we meet several of his doctors and nurses, who become an integral part of the main story line. My favorite of the group is Sayuri, his Japanese physical therapist. During his very long and painful stay, he meets Marianne Engel, a patient from the “psych” ward. He believes her to be schizophrenic or bi-polar, after concluding that she is not an actress nor a “porno stalker.” She is an interesting creature, this Marianne Engel… covered in tattoos, her backside is depicted on the cover of the book. She is eccentric and beautiful… and mysterious and crazy. Nevertheless, the reader grows to love her… as does the narrator.
Mariane Engel visits the narrator throughout his recovery and helps to nurse him back to health in more ways than one. In this duration, she tells him stories. These “side-stories” in the book were, by far, my most favorite part of the novel. They were all great, but I loved Sei’s story (see video below) the best! The Viking one, not too shabby!
The narrator makes his way out of the hospital and moves in with Marianne Engel, who claims to have been alive since the 1300’s. Apparently, she was given thousands of hearts by God, and it wasn’t until she’d given all of them away that she could return to heaven. The last of the hearts would belong to her true love and she must give it to him and he must release it back to her. Marianne is a stone-carver and makes her living carving gargoyles and the like. Of course, she has crazy amounts of cash money and is able to take on the financial burden of caring for him. In her care-taking of him, she continues to tell him about those “side stories,” now which include the story of their love in a past life.
I’d rather not give the ending away by continuing my rendition of the story-line. But, the narrator has to overcome many obstacles to find his way to true happiness. You see, while he was in the hospital, the only dream he had was to kill himself as soon as he was released. As horrible as his life was before the accident, he now viewed himself as a monster and less than a man (he lost his “P” in the accident). What the narrator learned was that, while his physical appearance and ability was completely shot, he actually became alive and happy for the first time in his life after the accident. All that he had before was physical beauty… but not an ounce of joy. Now, not an ounce of physical beauty, but a heart that was full.
The author and DoubleDay have a wonderful site with many resources that tie to the novel. I might spend some more time there reading up on the historical data beneath this novel. It is obvious that Davidson spent an incredible amount of time in the research phases of this debut novel. On the site, there are questions for book clubs/readers:
For Discussion: Throughout each liaison, how do the novel’s lovers honor their fate? They realize that they are dying in the name of true love.
For Discussion: The Gargoyle begins with arguably one of the most stunning opening scenes in contemporary literature. How was the author able to make horrifying details alluring? What was your initial reaction to these images? I was very visually connected to the author’s description of the crash and the fire. For me, it was totally engrossing and I couldn’t put the book down. Although, I understand from other reviewers that they were repulsed by the opening.
There is much, much more that I can write about this novel… however, the reader’s journey in this book is such a personal one that I find it best to end the review here. God, heaven, hell, the devil, love, life, death, faith, and the lack thereof, are all major concepts in this work. Therefore, it is within the mind of the reader that this book breathes life into… it’s a journey for you to take on your own.
My favorite quotes from the novel:
“No, it’s the opposite. I’m a vessel that water is poured into and splashes out of. It’s a circle, a flowing circle between God and the gargoyles and me, because that is what God is-a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”
“Skin is the dividing line between people, where you end and others begin. But in sex, all that changes. If skin is a fence that divides people, sex is the gate that opens your body to the other person.”
“Some day soon,” Lance said, “you’ll walk out of here and have to decide how you’re going to live the rest of your lives. Will you be defined by what other people see, or by the essence of your soul?”
“Any man who believes he can describe love,” I answered, “understands nothing about it.”
On the Sher’s “Out of Ten” Scale (ten being the best), I’d give this book an 8.75-9! The only trouble I had in the book was the journey with getting the serpent out…