The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
Finished: Aug. 21, 2008
First Published: Aug. 5, 2008
Genre: Magical realism
Reason for Reading: I received this ARC from Random House Canada. Qualifies for the Canadian Challenge.
Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love.
Comments: I think that is an amazing opening line. How could you not read on after that? The process of reading the book was pure joy from the first page. The writing exquisite and the details of description superb. This is a difficult book to summarize. I've heard the book termed "a fantasy love story" but I'm more apt to calling it magical realism. The story starts off with a class one b*stard. He's in the pornography business, started in front of the camera and now owns his own company. He leads a life of debauchery: women, cocaine, alcohol and sex. He crashes his car (completely his fault) and suffers a severe burn all over his body. He ends up in the hospital in the burn ward and the detailed treatment suffered by burn victims was disturbing. This section of the book was incredibly difficult to read the description of the man being burnt alive was amazingly excruciating to read, as was the medical treatments which these victims must endure.
An on again off again psychiatric patient visits the man and starts telling him stories of medieval times that eventually turn into stories of the two of them. He in a previous life and her still living after all these seven hundred years. She must spend this time giving away her twenty-seven hearts until he can except her last heart.
I loved the medieval stories. They started off fairy tale-ish but turned into a side story that was just as compelling, perhaps even more so, than the main modern time plot. The man eventually leaves the hospital and moves in with this woman, Marianne Engel. She is a sculptor of gargoyles and a love story of sorts progresses.
The narrator deals with his own personal demons in the form of a metaphorical snake of pain living in his spine. While the woman he lives with and cares for pursues her centuries old quest by carving gargoyles with little regard to her health. In my mind the author leaves the story open to personal interpretation. Is Marianne really seven hundred years old, are her tales true and do she and the narrator share a love of centuries or is she simply insane, a psychiatric patient whose condition continues to worsen. While I admit I enjoyed never really knowing whether Marianne was sane or not, I did form my own opinion of the answer and must say the ending left me feeling underwhelmed. Hence my 4.5 rating. The ending is plausible and the author is certainly entitled to choose such an ending but it did leave me feeling let down after the wonderful journey through the rest of the book. I had hoped things would end differently. A simply delicious read which certainly deserves the current hype and I would not be surprised to see this on this years Governor General's Award shortlist.