on 28 January 2009
After the slight disappointment earlier this year from Nick Harkaway's debut novel The Gone-Away World, I was a little skeptical about reading another new writer because I often find too many flaws ridden throughout the pages. However, The Gargoyle is another case entirely. In fact, the book is so well told that I just can't find a single fault. It really is quite possibly the most "perfect" of books I've ever read - and I'm not one to lavish praise on just anything. It's so rare that I will read and not try to change sections for my own personal endeavor, but reading The Gargoyle was refreshing - a strange word to use perhaps considering Davidson's knack for graphic description, particularly on his delineation of how the human body burns. It was refreshing because it was original, and even now a week after reading I am finding it hard to start another book because I am still emotionally involved with The Gargoyle. Our nameless narrator happens upon a vision while being high on drugs and booze where a swarm of burning arrows are heading towards his car as he drives along the cliff edge. He crashes down the gauge and eventually catches fire, leaving him a monster but alive albeit in the care of the burn ward at the hospital.
The story entails the once beautiful man during his hospital rehabilitation after the incredible survival of the burning wreck. Along the way he meets Marianne Engel - a woman who he initially believes to have come from the psychiatric ward. She is a carver of Gargoyles, tattooed, eccentric and scraggy and she comes to visit regularly telling him stories of long ago, from ancient Japan to medieval Germany, Italy and the vikings of Iceland. She also claims that the two of them were lovers in the 1300s - her being a nun at Engalthal Monastery and him a warrior wounded from battle (no wonder he thought she was crazy). As our narrator is brought back to life by his newly found friends at the hospital he is also brought to love and so his story goes much deeper than the tales he "believes" to have been weaved.
I've tried not to give too much away, so that you can read it for yourself because you really must. A truly remarkable piece of work; ambitious and taunting, yet so beautifully told. If you don't believe in love now you will after this, and you might even get the urge to buy a gargoyle... though I doubt it. A modern masterpiece.
This was a well written debut novel from a talented writer.
The interesting device of never revealing the identity of the narrator is a quirky plot point.
The Gargoyle of the title is the narrator, a handsome young man who while driving stoned and drunk one night crashes his car into a ravine and is burned in the resulting fire. He finally awakens in a burns unit to find his body has been ravaged by the flames and he has entered his own version of hell. It is during this period that he meets Marianne Engel, a renowned sculptor who stuns him by suddenly annoucing they were lovers seven hundred years ago in Germany and she has been searching for him since then.
The narrator is sure that Marianne is delusional and the fact that at their first meeting she is actually a patient in the physicatric ward does support that but after her release she continues to visit him and their relationship grows.
It is during these time that she begins to tell him the story of their first meeting and also occasionally seems to throw in seemingly random other stories as well. Even after his release from the unit when he goes to live with her the stories continue until finally they all come together and they both complete the journeys they have been on him to self redemption and her to final peace.
The author has chosen a large subject to tackle for his first novel, the question of what is love and how it endures and what one is prepared to do for it, mixed in with self realization and redemption, can one persons love be so strong as to drive them on through endless lifetimes for seven hundred years searhing for the one they lost?
Was this the best book I have ever read? Well no. Will it change my life for having read it? Again no. Is it a well written absorbing read with well drawn characters? Yes. Would I recommend it? A definite yes.
The measure of an author for me is whether they have engaged me enough to want to read other work by them and I can say that Andrew Davidson has done that with the Gargoyle.
on 4 May 2009
There has been a lot of hype about this book and whenever there is a lot of hype I either want to desperately read the book or I am put off. For this book I wanted to read it.
The thing that appealed to me instantly was the lack of blurb on the back of the edition I bought. All I knew was it was about a man who was suffering from major burns whose life was turned upside down by Marianne Engel - a quite impossible stranger. I loved the openness of this synopsis. Anything could happen!
I don't want to spoil the plot for you and give away too many secrets but the plot of this book is one of its many strengths. It keeps you interested and reading until the end. The beginning of the novel I found to be particularly engrossing due to the engaging narrative. The narrator suplements descriptions of his accident with snippets of his past. I read the first 100 pages so eagerly they were a blur! The last 100 pages were equally engrossing with a real countdown to the finale. I do believe there could have been more made of this countdown and of the actual finale. Such a big, epic novel really deserved a bigger ending.
The middle of the book was interesting. The way Andrew Davidson weaves the past with the present is done skillfully and Marianne's extra stories are interesting. The penultimate 100 pages did become a little repetitive and I urged the novel to move forward a little quicker but maybe that's more to do with my poor attention span!
So if this book is as good as I say it is then why did I only give it 4 out of 5? Well firstly, I've read this book, I've finished it and now it sits on my bookshelf, forgotten. A 5/5 book really needs to live with me even after the last page has been turned. The characters are well developed but maybe not enough for me. The second reason is because of the writing. There are some beautiful moments in here but there is also some very over indulgent writing that is so flowery and generally over written that it detracts from the essence of the book.
All in all a good book which I do recommend to readers. C'mon, you've gotta give it a go after all the hype!
**** some spoilers ****
I deliberated for some time whether this undeniably impressive debut novel merited the full 5 stars. It's not 100% perfect I argued. A few of the author's similes come over as somewhat strained ("the engine turned over like a grouchy bear", her hair like "Tartarean vines") or even tautological as in the "skeleton's ribcage" (surely that's only one step removed from a skeleton's skeleton?) But Davidson acknowledges these shortcomings with a throwaway comment about "ridiculous metaphors", thus diffusing my criticism. Next, I certainly didn't warm to the main character at first. A selfishly hedonistic porno star, serial liar, womaniser and drink and drug addict, our unnamed "hero" seemed to owe more than a little to the late John Holmes! But, he ultimately finds a satisfying form of redemption, so again, the author may be excused. Finally, the use of different fonts for different characters may strike you as a bit gimmicky too. Most notably the bitchsnake - the (admittedly clever) personification of pain, who seems to use a Dymo lablemaker to express herself! But, the sheer effectiveness of the motif is such that I can certainly excuse the author this minor conceit as well.
Enough quibbling though. Within the first 30 minutes or so of reading The Gargoyle, I was utterly hooked. Having been through a serious car crash myself (although thankfully having escaped the ensuing inferno), the frighteningly vivid description of the accident grabbed me at a visceral level ("a car crash seems to take forever" ... "in a split second, coming to the panicked conclusion that this is gonna hurt like hell"). The long and excruciatingly painful reconstruction and recovery process are expertly depicted, to the extent that I almost felt voyeuristically guilty for staring at a cruelly disfigured victim. It's not all grim going though. There is much black humour contained within The Gargoyle's black-edged pages. For example, I laughed out loud when the author mischievously inserts a couple of incongruous items in a long list of victuals, just to check whether I was still reading. There is perhaps just the merest hint of caricature about some of the players - notably Jack and Gregor, but they still convince as vibrant, rounded characters. The real star though is Marianne Engel - the enigmatic and possibly/probably mentally ill woman who enters the main character's life during his rehabilitation. It is she who drags him back from a deep well of self pity and from fantasies of an elaborate (and foolproof) suicide. Her perfect bedside manner, weaving fantasies (or are they really memories?) of love in medieval Germany, Viking era Iceland and ancient feudal Japan, restores the will to live. This is clever stuff indeed, as parallels between the ancient storylines and the present become apparent! A few flashes of realisation even hit me well after I had finished the book.
So was Marianne merely delusional and disturbed or was something far more profound and transcendental at work? You decide. Davidson leaves matters perfectly balanced. This is a remarkably powerful book which will stay with you for a long while and, minor quibbles aside, is fully deserving of 5 stars.
on 26 February 2009
I think this is the first book I have ever reviewed. I am no great writer but felt the need to to let others know how great this book is.
I was blown away from the first few pages. On page two I knew I would love the book, the writing style is fantastic and while the descriptions in the first chapter were a little gory I just had to carry on reading.
The mix of romance, history and fantasy made the book so special. I enjoyed reading Marianne's stories and really looked forward to the next one in the book. It almost felt like it was two books in one. Brilliantly written, like no other story I have read before.
I will be passing this on to everyone I know.
on 5 May 2009
I can't help being very impressed by this novel. I'm impressed by its originality, complexity and internal coherence. I'm not normally into fantasy and, to be honest with you, I approached this book slightly suspicious. I was expecting some sort of very complicated story, full of medieval links and mysteries. I couldn't be farthest from reality. "Gargoyle" is a very enjoyable reading, funny sometimes and very entertaining, where of course there are references to medieval times, but presented in a very pleasant manner, never boring, never out of place. As typical of this kind of story everything has its own meaning that will be revealed to you only in the very end, so you'll never lack stimulus to go ahead. And also as far as the fantasy side of the novel is concerned, I can assure you that it doesn't have the upper hand over the realistic one. Davidson very carefully mixes the two aspects so that you'll never be too sure which one to believe in. And when he writes about totally unrealistic experiences, he very carefully stresses that they're happening under drug's effect.
Regarding the plot, you'll find information about it everywhere, so I don't bore you with unnecessary details.
Strong recommended if you want to be entertained, amused, and you don't dislike an hallucinative and exotic touch. And also if you are extremely romantic and you believe in eternal love!
on 27 October 2011
I am astounded that this was Andrew Davidson's debut. What unbelievable talent and imagination the man has!
The Gargoyle is totally unique - and to me, that's worth a star in itself! I'm not going to dissect the tale in too much detail but suffice to say that the un-named protagonist has a horrific car accident with leaves him with terrible burns. He becomes Freddy Kreuger (to look at) and just he thinks 'game over, kill me now and do me a favour', onto the burns ward walks a mysterious lady (and sculptor of gargoyles) Marianne Engel. Well I don't want to say any more really as it'll give bits and bobs away that you'll enjoy discovering yourself, but the journey that Marianne and the protagonist embark on is really something to behold.
It dips back into medieval history and details their past lives as well as telling some riveting tales of people from much further back on time.
So, what you have really is the real-time tale of the burns victim and his recovery, the tale of his past life and also meaningful historical tales of other people from far and wide ....... and the lot all comes together at the end ........
It's kind of 3 for the price of one!!!
I really loved it. I couldn't put it down and I found Davidson's writing style amazing - and perfectly paced. At no point did the book drag, I whizzed through it and am now recommending it to everyone I know!!!
on 18 September 2008
Wow what can I say about this one. I really was not sure what to think when I picked this one from the Vine list, but I am truly glad that I did. I have read far more novels than I would care to even try and figure, but no other has been like this one. I have to admit it connects so well with me because like the narrator I have suffered serious burns (not as extensive as his, but I ended up with a broken back to go with them). His description of the injuries and the treatment, though gruesome to read are as accurate as this type of thing ever is in a work of fiction. However it is not this real world part of the story that most impressed me, it was 'fantasy element' of the women condemned to live 700 years as punishment for killing her lover (even though she had done it out of mercy) with no release until she had found her love reborn.
The book pulls you in very quickly if brutally with the description of the accident which leaves the narrator horribly burned, but while the focus shifts from the gore to the mystery love story the pace never slows down, and you are kept gripped until the very end.
There have been some mixed reviews published here before this review, but while opinions on an artistic creation such as a novel are always subjective, I really would recommend that anyone who loves a good story should give this book a go.
on 28 June 2009
All I can say about this book is that I really, really loved it. It's mysterious, gritty, thought-provoking, addictive, disturbing, gross and beautiful by turns. It's by far the most interesting and unconventional series of love stories I've ever read. To me, the gritty parts had a bit of the flavour of Chuck Palahniuk or Tess Gerritsen, as addictive as a Lee Child, as imaginative and fairytale as Stephenie Meyer, as deep and disturbing as Sophie Hannah. To be honest though, I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't like it, and my mum thinks the same thing!
on 17 March 2009
I first saw this book at an airport shop, but put it down again as I didn't think I'd like it. Fast-forward a few months and, while looking for something new to read, I saw the reviews on here and thought I'd go for it. I have to say, in all I'm glad I did. It truly is a page-turner: I read it in a few days and enjoyed the ride. However, it's not a perfect work: the narrator totally failed to apall me with his tales of drugs, crime and porn: I have a very high threshold and felt like the author was trying to get a reaction out of me that he just wasn't going to get! I did enjoy some of the more harrowing passages on being burned alive - they had true impact and did make me feel much more engaged with the plot.
However, after the appearance of Marianne the book does begin to chart a tricky course between charming romance and mawkish sentimentalism. I did feel that some of the romantic parts were genuinely lovely, and the stories of other characters told as asides to the main narrative are really wonderful. The ending left me slightly cold, but in all, this is a book I'd recommend to friends who want something quick and compelling, and to some degree, a little different.
It's not a towering work of fiction - to my mind, it's written with the author's intent - and bank balance - aimed firmly at a film adaptation. Minor characters are often under-or over-drawn, there are plot gaps you could drive a bus through and at times it's tricky to suspend disbelief sufficiently. But as a great page-turner, a book to take on holiday, on a long flight, it really hits the mark. Think of it not as a complex, vintage red wine, but an ice-cold lager and lime on a scorching day. Cheers!