At the start of Davidson’s powerful debut, the unnamed narrator, a coke-addled pornographer, drives his car off a mountain road in a part of the country that’s never specified. During his painful recovery from horrific burns suffered in the crash, the narrator plots to end his life after his release from the hospital. When a schizophrenic fellow patient, Marianne Engel, begins to visit him and describe her memories of their love affair in medieval Germany, the narrator is at first skeptical, but grows less so
I have been wanting to read The Gargoyle for a long time, but somehow some reviews about how gruesome it was and somehow the fate of some cynic “coke-addled pornographer” didn’t interest me in the least. However, the Unputdownables book club at Goodreads made it their September read, so I had a good excuse to finally pick it up.
I don’t even know how to begin here. There is so much to say about this book and so much symbolism, I am not sure what to say first.
If you ever thought that someone describing how he got burnt alive and learning the details about third degree burns or debridement will hardly be something you can’t put down, you have not read this book. Whatever the narrator tells us, no matter whether it is about his horrible injuries, his behaviour to get women into his bed or his rather terrible childhood starting with his very bloody birth, he does it with such a dry humour and in such a matter-of-fact tone that you just have to read on.
I totally loved this nameless man. He would have been a real prick in pre-accident life, I am certain, but afterwards he is just right. I was grateful for his cynical, atheist attitude, otherwise the frequent religious talk would have put me off the book. He is a good counter balance for Marianne Engel, a complete religious nutcase. Mind you, in other areas of life Marianne made up for this unfortunate disposition. Among a lot of other things that woman knows how to throw a picnic together (totally over the top of course, but that makes it all the more mouth watering).
Sometimes I was wondering what on Earth Marianne Engel is thinking, like when she turns up as a mummy in the burn ward, it’s Halloween, but nevertheless. Was that just inconsideration on her part or did she have an ulterior motive for it? Knowing her she probably did. There are some scenes in this book that are wonderfully funny, like when the narrator and Gregor tell each other some childhood stories, OMG, I was laughing my ass off. At other times I was crying. This book does it all to you.
The four love stories that are incorporated in the story (and in a clever way, too. All and everything is connected) are all beautiful and horrible at the same time. Some scenes I had to skim over because I couldn’t read them. The beginning with the burning is nothing, there is some other stuff later on that I find worse.
What I particularly liked was the way the narrator describes things. With a few words a scene is conjured and you can imagine what it all looks like. At some point he describes Marianne Engel as a mixture of Hildegard von Bingen and yakuza. Can’t you just exactly imagine what she must have looked and acted like? Later on he says about himself he looks like the bastard child of Hannibal Lecter and the Phantomess of the Opera. I loved that. I loved his sense of humour even in the worst situations.
Even though the ending was not a happy one, I can’t say I was unhappy about it. This is not your typical "happily ever after"couple, so it only is logical that they can’t have a typical happy ending.
One thing bothered me about the book and that is the matter of distance. Somehow Andrew Davidson must have forgotten to look closely at a German map.
The straight way to Nürnberg from Engelthal through a dense forest would be about 27km. I seriously doubt that a farmer with a cart from around Engelthal would go to the market in Nürnberg. I am sure there would have been another town closer by that had a market place, for example Hersbruck.
Then the town of Mainz. When the narrator is brought to Engelthal for treatment Marianne suggests to take him to another hospital in Mainz that would be more suitable for the task. Oh, really? This might be a good idea nowadays when you pack a seriously injured patient into a helicopter and fly him to a specialized hospital in a few hours (if that). I wonder how they would have done that back then. Mainz is about 250km from Nürnberg, for Heaven’s sake.
Something similar happens later on when Marianne and the narrator flee from Engelthal. They don’t want to stay in Nürnberg so they decide to go to the other large city “in the region”, which is Mainz. Going to Mainz in those times would have been quite an adventure. However, here they decide to go there and in the next paragraph – without even so much as a thought as to how to get there and how long that would take – they enter Mainz. Not likely!
However, these are just details that didn’t take the fun out of reading the book. It sucked me right in from page one and I couldn’t stop reading. I think this is going to be my default book for friends’ birthdays from now on. It’s that good. You should read it, too!
Oh, and another hint. You might want to have a look at Dante’s Inferno before picking up The Gargoyle – if you have the stamina. It is not necessary, but I think that having read the Inferno beforehand might add to the experience considerably.
Andrew Davidson about The Gargoyle on youtube
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Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.