Many of the books I choose to read are in the fantasy genre. I was looking for something different and a friend recommended The Gargoyle, a psychological/historical fiction by Canadian writer Andrew Davidson, published in 2008.
“The Gargoyle: the mesmerizing story of one man’s descent into personal hell and his quest for salvation.
On a dark road in the middle of the night, a car plunges into a ravine. The driver survives the crash, but his injuries confine him to a hospital burn unit. There the mysterious Marianne Engel, a sculptress of grotesques, enters his life. She insists they were lovers in medieval Germany, when he was a mercenary and she was a scribe in the monastery of Engelthal. As she spins the story of their past lives together, the man’s disbelief falters; soon, even the impossible can no longer be dismissed.”
The Gargoyle begins with a car accident. Our main character, who remains unnamed throughout the story, describes in excruciating detail crashing and suffering terrible burn wounds. The character to me was fascinating – rough childhood, grew up to be a substance addict and porn star, materialistic and enjoyed chasing women and doing cocaine. His career and reputation come crashing down when most of his body is ruined by severe burns, including his manhood. He is numb and cynical to the fact, a raw and believable response that’s beautifully written.
Before long, a woman called Marianne Engel comes to see him from the psych ward. At first, his doctors don’t want her there, but when he insists he enjoys her visits (all his other friends took one look at his ruined body and abandoned him), she visits more and more often, telling him stories about their “past life” together.
Marianne Engel is another incredibly interesting character. She’s erratic, often speaks in riddles, but her love for the main character is apparent throughout. Has she really found him from a past life, or is she delusional?
Things I Liked
The story hooked me from the first page. I liked the prose a lot, and I felt I could feel and understand the narrator’s frustration and loss of fight at his situation, his unsureness at what to make of Marienne, and his developing feelings for her. Other characters were great too, especially Marianne’s agent, Jack, and various characters in the “past” timeline.
The story had everything – deep trauma, enchanting accounts of the past, emotion, and enough questions to keep me hooked until the last page.
Things I Didn’t Like
Though I enjoyed this book a lot, it wasn’t perfect. Mr. Davidson lived in Japan for a while, something he nodded at with his Japanese character, one of Marianne Engel’s stories set in feudal Japan, and various references to the country’s food and culture. His character was a stereotypical Japanese woman at times, overly “genki,” of short stature, and of course very cute and pretty. I wouldn’t say this was offensive, per se, he just used a lot of tired tropes of Japanese women.
There were also a part where he poked fun at Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t consider myself someone who is easily offended, but it didn’t sit well with me, especially as the metaphor wasn’t particularly fitting. It makes me wonder if the writer was a Witness when he was younger.
Despite these minor setbacks, The Gargoyle is a wonderful psychological/historical fiction that you’ll be able to gobble up in a few days. The ending made me burst into tears, a great sign of a story I was deeply invested in. A solid four out of five stars for The Gargoyle!