Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Book Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

The blurb on the back of this novel is brief, and gives away almost nothing of the plot. This could be considered a risky move on the part of the publisher, as revealing so little to a potential reader might put them off buying, but I for one am glad that they chose this approach, as everything that followed was wholly unexpected.
The unnamed narrator of The Gargoyle is a patient in a burns unit, having been transformed by a car accident from a hedonistic, handsome young man into a crippled monster.  Into his room walks Marianne Engel, a stranger to the narrator.  She claims to have known him, and loved him, for a long time, despite the fact that he has no memory of her.  She also claims to be over seven hundred years old.
The author attaches some unfortunate literary cliches to the character of Marianne; presented as a sculptress of gargoyles and intensely spiritual with a self-destructive devotion to her craft, she fulfils every aspect of the "troubled artist" figure.  However, once the reader gets past this, they will find Marianne to be an incredibly rewarding character, whether they choose to view her as an immortal being or as a mentally ill outcast.
Luckily, the narrator escapes such typecasting, as he alternates between being a defensive cynic, hardened by his scars, and a man who wishes he were able to take the smallest leap of faith.
The Gargoyle is rich in allusion and allegory, with Marianne naturally assuming the role of Scheherezade, spinning yarns for the patient in his bed, while the entire car accident and recovery process play out in parallel with Dante's Inferno.
The Gargoyle is a love story with a difference, a stunning debut novel, a truly divine comedy, and the most absorbing book I have read in a very long time.

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