Book Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
The Gargoyle is a stone-cold classic
From The Sunday Business Post, September 28, 2008
Readers in possession of a pitch-dark sense of humour will find much to adore about Andrew Davidson’s magnificently wicked debut novel of love, death and redemption, The Gargoyle.
From the first page, it wastes no time in arresting our attention and gaining our sympathies as the unnamed narrator describes, in graphic and gruesome detail, his terrible car crash and consequent injuries that have all but destroyed his once much-admired body.
Driving under the influence of cocaine along a dark road, he swerves to avoid a sudden ‘‘volley of burning arrows swarming out of the woods’’, resulting in his car plummeting down a mountainside.
Trapped inside the burning vehicle, he tells of how his ‘‘flesh began to singe as if I were a scrap of meat newly thrown onto the barbecue’’ and how he could ‘‘hear the bubbling of my skin as the flames kissed it.” He then candidly suggests how the reader might show empathy, by laying the side of their face on a hot cooker hob until they too can hear the ‘‘snap, crackle and pop’’ of their flesh.
The cynical self-confessed drug user, murderer, womaniser and porn star may not be the most sympathetic character ever created, but it’s impossible not to feel for someone who, when faced with such disfigurement and medical treatment involving maggots and the flesh of dead humans and pigs, feels forced to devise for himself quite the most horrific suicide ever described in print.
With all hope of redemption gone, and an evil serpent taunting him from within his spine, he concludes that ‘‘Heaven is an idea constructed by man to help him cope with the fact that life on Earth is both brutally short and, paradoxically, far too long.”
Thankfully, into his life walks the bewitching Marianne Engel, a mysterious sculptress of gargoyles with ‘‘riotously entangled hair’’, chameleonic eyes, and angel wings tattooed on her back.
She instantly recognises the narrator in spite of his condition – and all too convincingly explains how she and he were once lovers in medieval Germany. She captivates him with lively, horrifying stories and fables from her past, taking in Germany, Italy, England and Japan, complete with her skills in text translations and Icelandic folklore until, gradually, his cynicism evaporates and love takes hold.
So far, so preposterous, but Davidson weaves these disparate elements together with such enormous elan that his seductive prose removes the reader’s own cynicism and disbelief. Certainly, it’s a novel about the redemptive and undiminishable qualities of love, yet even when the protagonist utters the saccharine line, ‘‘being burned was the best thing that ever happened to me, because it brought you,” we are still willing him on to a beautiful conclusion.
Davidson employs device after device to continually surprise and haunt the reader throughout the novel: tales of doomed lovers, a tourist trail through Dante’s circles of hell, complete with an array of fascinating type fonts and recurring characters, and a peppering of secret messages with which to enthral and amuse the reader to the final page.
The characters of the hideous burn victim and the gorgeous Marianne, with whom we cannot help but fall in love, are a modern Quasimodo and Esmeralda, every bit as unforgettable. ‘‘Love is as strong as death, as hard as Hell’’, we are told; would that we could all explore such a mad, enticing and rewarding Inferno for ourselves. The Gargoyle is a rich and glorious first novel from an imaginative talent who is destined to be found on bestseller lists for many years to come.