After reading The Gargoyle, my first thought was that nothing could possibly top it. After 44 years (I started early) of reading anything I could get my hands on, including Moby-Dick, reading Andrew Davidson’s debut novel made me feel as if I were done. The Gargoyle had it all – all I’d ever wanted or needed from a book. My next thought was how on earth was I going to review it? Simply put, it’s complicated.
The book opens with a terrific car crash, landing the driver, who remains nameless throughout the story, in a hospital covered in first- to fourth-degree burns. A former drug addict and porn star-turned-adult-film-producer, the protagonist/narrator is a hero you would hardly expect to care about. He is sarcastic, dark, cynical and somewhat ungrateful. Yet, Davidson finds a way to subtly redeem him with his skilled and magical pen, drawing comparisons to The Inferno along the way. By the end of the book, you will probably like the foul-mouthed pornographer who initially cursed those who saved him, and you might even admire him.
While in the hospital, our unlikely hero is visited by a psychiatric patient, Marianne Engel, who believes that they were meant to cross paths. In fact, she believes they have met before – in a previous life. Officially diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, Engel entertains with story after story that span lifetimes and cross boundaries. Her tales alone will have you turning pages quickly, but Davidson’s clever weaving of the stories into our hero’s recovery, and subsequent life with Engel, will have you shaking your head in amazement. However, Marianne Engel is not just a storyteller. She is an artist who carves gargoyles out of stone, and creates beauty out of something dark, giving life to that which seemingly has none.
The Gargoyle’s characters are rich and knowing, the imagery breathtaking, the voice and rhythm unfailing. Andrew Davidson spent seven years researching and writing The Gargoyle, and it paid off in more ways than one. Not only is it already an international bestseller (and deservedly so), but the manuscript purportedly ended up in a high-stakes bidding war after the initial $1 million offer was turned down by Davidson’s agent. This is his first novel, which can only be good news for him – and readers everywhere.
According to the publisher, The Gargoyle will “have you believing in the impossible.” But whether it brings you full circle or answers your questions with more questions, one thing is certain: The Gargoyle has the power to restore one’s faith in literature for the 21st century.
Publisher: Doubleday, 480 pages
Available August 5, 2008