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The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson: It just might be the last book you’ll ever need to read…

The Gargoyle by Andrew DavidsonAfter 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
ISBN: 978-0-385-52494-0

The Gargoyle Website (Burned by Love)
Read The Gargoyle on the Amazon Kindle 2


41 thoughts on “The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson: It just might be the last book you’ll ever need to read…

  1. I’m intruiged. I’ll start with your review and then may have to go straight to the book. But I hate the thought of coming to the end of my reading career! ;-)

    Posted by Rose City Reader | 21 June, 2008, 9:04 pm
  2. Don’t worry, Rose, that won’t really happen.

    (Can you imagine it?!)

    Posted by draabe | 23 June, 2008, 2:57 pm
  3. What a great site! And it took me literally 5 seconds here to find a new book to post to my Amazon wish list, thanks for the recommendation!

    Posted by dailyfoolishness | 28 June, 2008, 11:15 pm
  4. Many thanks – I would love to hear back whether or not you actually like the book.

    Posted by draabe | 28 June, 2008, 11:53 pm
  5. Wow. What a great review. I hadn’t heard of this book before. Here’s a question for you. To read as many books as possible I am also subscribing to Audible. Is Gargoyle the kind of book that I should read in paper (take notes, underline sections etc) or listen to?

    Posted by Beryl Singleton Bissell | 29 June, 2008, 4:23 pm
  6. There is a great site for discussing books that you might want to link with Diane . . . Shelfari. And they’ve started a special group for Minnesota readers and writers http://www.shelfari.com/groups/25210/about

    Posted by Beryl Singleton Bissell | 30 June, 2008, 2:46 am
  7. Beryl – thanks for the tip regarding Minnesota readers! As far as listening to The Gargoyle goes, it’s probably just fine. There are a few passages printed in a varied font, but the auditory change of these passages is probably more interesting. I didn’t do any “going back” when I read The Gargoyle to check what I’d already read or try and figure anything out. I just kept going!

    Now that you mention Audible, it’s probably a great way to “digest” this book. I’m currently listening to a (different) book myself, as a matter of fact.

    Posted by draabe | 1 July, 2008, 11:26 pm
  8. Great review. But I doubt I will end my omnivorous reading career just yet.

    I was wondering if you or your readers could help me–I used to get an eclectic little mail-order book catalog a few years ago. They also had their own imprint and would re-publish out of print books as well as new ones. They carried a lot of British books. Each issue was filled with personal reading recommendations and very literary book reviews. Does that ring any bells?

    Posted by Maura Alia Badji | 2 July, 2008, 12:02 am
  9. Maura, it doesn’t ring any bells for me – other than the “million dollar idea” kind.

    Posted by draabe | 2 July, 2008, 2:47 am
  10. Although it clearly didn’t end my reading life, you are totally right that if any book ever would, it would be The Gargoyle. Crazy amazing. I don’t know how anyone could ever write a novel again after reading it.

    Posted by Devourer of Books | 25 July, 2008, 12:16 pm
  11. “Crazy amazing” — that’s good…

    Posted by draabe | 27 July, 2008, 2:26 pm
  12. Okay, you’ve convinced me. I’m looking forward to reading it and my expectations are high. I’ll let you know when I’ve read it.

    Posted by stacybuckeye | 31 July, 2008, 10:23 am
  13. I LOVE this book. I am now only 3 chapters from the end & I’m trying to drag it out so it won’t be over!! It’s hard to make it last when it so hard to put down. Thank you to Mr. Davidson for writing such a beautiful &, dare I say it!? ROMANTIC novel – the dark, rich, gothic type of romance that so many of us crave.

    Posted by Oddvenus | 9 October, 2008, 11:32 am
  14. I’m about half-way through this book…and I was thinking the very same thing…don’t think I’ll be able to find another book as original or as well-written as The Gargoyle. Can’t put it down and have been telling everyone I run into to pick up this book A.S.A.P!

    Posted by Tamara | 13 October, 2008, 8:43 am
  15. I just finished reading this today. I loved it. I had every emotion while reading it and I was soooo sad for it to be over. I want to read it again, but I am sad that it won’t be with the exact same experience as the first time. The virgin read was the best. I borrowed it from a friend, but they will never get it back!!

    Posted by Allison | 18 October, 2008, 7:16 pm
  16. This is truly one of the best books I have ever read. It is brilliant. I have been telling everyone I know to read it. I wept through much of it, and loved it all.

    Posted by Lianne | 23 October, 2008, 1:47 pm
  17. I loved the book! I don’t know anyone else who has read it so that I might discuss it with them and I do have a question. All of Marianne’s “friends” that she relates stories of are they all incarnations of her at different times in history? Also, why has she not aged?

    Posted by Catherine | 30 October, 2008, 10:57 am
  18. Catherine – when Andrew Davidson participated in a live chat via The Washington Post, he had this to say about that:

    “Some things are better left for the reader to imagine, and decide.”

    I imagined that the stories were – at the very least – symbolic of the relationship between Marianne and the narrator, if not more. As to your second question, let me just ask you: do you angels age?

    By the way, there is a very cool discussion website you can visit if you want to discuss the book with other fans. Mr. Davidson makes an occasional appearance as well.

    Posted by draabe | 31 October, 2008, 12:12 pm
  19. In response to previous comments — I just finished the audio version of The Gargoyle, read by Lincoln Hoppe. I picked it up on a whim, having never heard of it before. I became a Gargoyle addict — forgoing other duties in order to listen to the book. I’m sad that I’ve finished it, but I will “read” it again. I’m sure that I will find even more to love on the second and third go-rounds. The book has an astonishing richness and depth — I have loaned it to a friend, who has pledged to return it on pain of death. Once I get it back, I’ll listen to it again.

    Posted by Amber | 1 November, 2008, 3:36 pm
  20. Amber, you’re not alone! When my daughter wanted to borrow the book, I bought her a new copy rather than part with mine. Check out the link on my homepage “The Gargoyle” which will direct you to ongoing online discussion.

    Posted by draabe | 1 November, 2008, 4:30 pm
  21. I read this book (recommended by a local book store owner) for a comparison to the English patient for a school project. I was looking for some sparknotes and came across this… I just have to say, I really enjoyed the book, but was very bored through all of the stories that Marienne told. But that’s just me! :]

    Posted by LE | 22 January, 2009, 7:32 pm
  22. I loved this book. So intricate & beautiful. Very different. One of the few books I want to read again. One of the few also that I have recommended to my husband that he has liked!

    Posted by susan | 29 January, 2009, 10:40 pm
  23. I just listened to the CD while driving to work each day. Enjoyed it very much in that format, the reader enhanced the story. Occasionally I find that the reader is a distraction when “listening” to a book. I read actual books extensively, and will likely add a copy to my permanent library so I can read it again.

    Posted by Karen | 1 February, 2009, 12:28 pm
  24. i am in the middle of the book now and i can not put it down. i have read a lot of books in the past, some of them classics, but i have never read a book like this. it is amazing!!!!

    Posted by kelly | 5 February, 2009, 6:31 pm
  25. i feel like everyone else who has read this book are all older and mature readers…

    im only 17 but i loved this book. it was intricate, intriguing, complex, a little disturbing at times yet i couldnt put it down.

    i felt a little wrong reading it in the beginning because it seemed to have some sort of an adult theme especially with his life career but seeing past it i found it was a book of love, of hope, of the undying connections between loved ones.

    i choose to believe marriana engel and their past life…

    i am soo reading it again this summer

    i nearly died of a heart attack when my friend looked and the book and creased it down the middle of the spine

    Posted by Ari | 29 March, 2009, 9:06 am
  26. I passed this book up at the library for several months without reading the inside cover…thought it might not be the type of book I would read — just by the title — then I picked it up and could hardly put it down! Read it in less than 2 days…thoroughly enjoyed it and wonder if the author can outdo himself?…big order if you ask me….

    Posted by Mendy | 30 March, 2009, 12:44 pm
  27. The Gargoyle took me 9 months to read. Not because I am a slow reader, but because this is an awful book. I only kept reading it to see if it would get better and it never did. All the “bitchsnake” talk was annoying – in the middle of a paragraph – made no sense and just seemed to get in the way. Most of the sexual references were crude and did not have a place in the book either. I can see as you are talking about the background of the porn industry, but that trailed off in the very beginning. The remainder of the book referenced cheese on nipples and stupidity like that. Talk about the Inferno, there will be one in my backyard when I throw the book in the bonfire.

    Posted by Tonya | 9 April, 2009, 12:28 pm
  28. Saw the audiobook in the library – don’t believe in coincidences – I’m always intrigued by reincarnation theory. My praise for the book would merely duplicate earlier posts. I only listened to the book when driving – a deliciously agonizing way to stretch out this superb tale. The descriptions are so rich that while listening to one segment, I was compelled to stop at the grocery store on the way home to get the ingredients for one of the dishes! I will just add that if you’re short on time, you won’t lose much “reading pleasure” in audio format. Not only is Lincoln Hoppe a very talented narrator, he also does all international accents VERY well. A must read…And Draabe: blessings to you for creating your site and thanks to Google for posting your link on the first search page. As I said…no coincidences in the Universe. (I’d put Lincoln on the short list of entertaining narrators that includes Kate Reading and Barbara Rosenblat. These actors convert the audiobook “eating at McDonalds” ordeal into the “3 course dinner” adventure that reading provides.

    Posted by Tasi | 29 April, 2009, 8:50 am
  29. Although it sure is a page turner, I couldn’t help feeling the book is just a prime example of kitsch. It’s written sensationally, going from one extreme to the next (I do find it impressive, though, how the author manages to keep it all balanced and not becoming too repetitive). The characters are as two-dimensional as they get. That’s obviously the point, but why should I care about them, then? Ultimately, the story didn’t teach me anything; a pastiche of romantic spiritual events that I’ve heard a thousand times in other stories and ironically, gets retold by the short stories peppered in this book. I guess I’m supposed to lean back, put think less, feel more and enjoy the current. But that type of book bores me. I would advise The Gargoyle to young teenagers, but I doubt they’d enjoy this book more than, or learn more from, the latest edition of Final Fantasy.
    Maybe I’m just hard on this book for being rather pretentious. Not by being intellectually snobby (like some books), but by all the decorations. The book has two acrostics (the first letter and the last letter of each chapter), a bunch of different letter-types, refers to half a dozen languages, likens itself to The Inferno, has black sides like it is burnt… and what’s with all the food?

    Posted by Robert August de Meijer | 26 May, 2009, 7:06 am
    • Dear Readers, the true meaning of this book will likely be lost on “young teenagers” and those who aren’t reading it fully – or fail to finish it.

      Not every book is for every person, but as a book snob of high order, I can assure you this is not a romance or a fantasy. If you haven’t learned something important at the end of this book, you haven’t paid attention.

      Having said that, it is not an “intellectually snobby” book and, personally, I didn’t find it a bit pretentious. It’s not meant to be Dante – but the references are there and you don’t even need to get them to “get” the book.

      Admittedly, I had a tough time getting through the first 50 pages – and almost set it aside. But upon reaching the end of the book, I realized that the setup was essential to the payoff.

      Again, not every book is for every person and you don’t have to read anything, but if you “get” this one, consider yourself a fortunate reader.

      Posted by draabe | 29 September, 2010, 1:31 pm
  30. I just finished the first few chapters. WOW! The most intense book I’ve ever started. My skin felt super sensitve while reading the first part, infact oversensitive. For the first time I now know what it means to have something make your skin crawl. My own tee shirt started to irritate and feel very uncomfortable (almost like the flu). I had to take it off, it felt as if I didn’t want ANYTHING touching me and asure my skin that I could feel the fresh air and that I was okay! Can’t put the book down. I think it will be very difficult to find another great book.

    Posted by DM | 8 September, 2009, 7:54 pm
  31. I am a fan because of the detail he put into the hospital, I hope to be a nurse soon (I am a student, going to take my Nurse Aid test in February) and he used some actual medical terms that renewed my intrigue. I accidentally picked up this novel in the library but went out to buy it to show to all of my friends who also hope to become nurses. Well, they love it needless to say and it really helped most of us see why patients can be so bitter towards us. I am waiting on his next novel and just hope I won’t have to wait MORE than 10 years to read his genius. All in all, it is absolutely magnificent and I will read it again and again.

    Posted by Katie | 17 November, 2009, 7:55 am
    • That’s an interesting take I hadn’t heard before, Katie. I enjoy reading medical detail, too, and Davidson had some authoritative help in addition to the research he did.

      By the way, when I last chatted with Davidson online he said he was in no hurry to finish the next book. His process involves doing a lot of heavy research first and then seeing what’s there.

      Posted by draabe | 17 November, 2009, 8:36 am
  32. Hi, i’ve read the book and i think i never liked this kind of book before but The Gargoyle captivated me. Actually i enjoy reading this book. But, i really need some help, i dont understand the chapter when the main character had a fever and then “visited” hell. I just dont get the point. Would you explain it to me?
    And what is the role of Fransesco, Sei, Sigurd, Vicky? Who are they? are they just a legend or Marianne’s pasr friend or what?
    And then, what do you think, is Marianne really schizophrenic or what she told him all true?
    reply to email would be better.

    Posted by Michelle | 19 January, 2010, 9:26 pm
    • Michelle – I’d rather not print any spoilers here so will send you an email. But I will say that I believe the author’s ambiguity regarding Marianne’s mental stability was intentional. Also, there is an ongoing chapter-by-chapter discussion of this book at http://www.the-gargoyle.co.uk/#. Just register, log in and chat with other readers.

      Posted by draabe | 20 January, 2010, 2:24 pm
  33. I loved this book. I read it in two days – couldn’t put it down. I think this is a remarkable debut novel and I look forward to reading something else by this author. It definitely is in the top five of my all time favorite books. I found it amazing the way he was able to turn a pretty unsympathetic character into one for whom I ended up having a lot of sympathy. He did a great job developing the characters in the book.

    I think the question of Marianne’s mental stability is answered (in my opinion) pretty definitively in the last chapter of the book.

    Posted by lisa small | 18 March, 2011, 11:33 pm
  34. It’s funny…I am a military wife, and at the time that I read this novel, we were stationed in Britain…at RAF Alconbury. We lived in Peterborough, and I felt strongly that nothing could really top the beauty of every day (when it wasn’t raining!) we lived in Britain. I mean, we slept with the windows wide open at night, allowed our child outside to play for hours and hours at a time knowing she was safe. We ate fresh fruit and veg, and I worked on the British economy. It truly was idyllic. It was a challenge being a military spouse, but being in Britain made it all worth it. We were due to return to the US in the summer of 2009. I started reading the novel in February. From the first page, I was utterly hooked. In fact, I read the first page in the middle of the day and stopped. It was so strange and there was too much going on in the daytime. I purposely closed it and set my light alarm (my alarm that goes off with light only) to remind me when it was 1am so I could start reading. I am not joking or exaggerating.

    The first page was shocking. And good. Too good to read when there any possibility of being distracted.

    I read every morning at 1am and would often re-read chapters just to make the experience last longer. The sun would rise with me thinking of the things I had just read. I lived in that book…and I purposely did not finish it in a timely manner at all. It became a sort of vacation for me at 1am.

    In April, my husband had left for work. I had chosen to sleep late. The windows were open. It was still cool. My novel was to my left. I slept with it. Again, I am NOT lying. This novel meant so much to me for so many reasons. I opened the book, knowing I would finish it, truly sad that it was ending…and I savored every word…sometimes re-reading paragraphs just to ensure I had understood every word. I finally reached the last sentence, stared at it, then closed the pages.

    I put down my head and just wept. It was the best and longest definition of love I had ever read, and I determined that I would never again read another novel. The reviewer is spot on in describing EXACTLY how I felt. Indeed, I did not read another novel for over a year. When I did, it was Steig Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Other than the late Larsson’s work, I have not read one single novel since 2009. There is no reason to do so. I get sick simply reading the titles of novels in the bookstore, totally disappointed, knowing I will never be moved this way again. In fact, I am still moved. I have read all I ever need to read (outside the Bible), and if I am wrong, the rare novelist like Larsson will magically “meet” me and I will be proven wrong.

    Thank you for your review and for allowing me to write so long. Before this novel, it was Alice Walker’s The Temple of My Familiar…and I read that over 16 years ago. ;) Get this. It’s life changing.

    Posted by Christi Johnson | 23 May, 2011, 8:00 pm
  35. The first 50 pages didn’t suck me in…but after I read The Gargoyle with the same feverish intensity as Marianne Engel chiseled stone; beautiful, dark, complicated, timeless. It was exhausting and exhilarating.

    Posted by xeniah | 17 July, 2011, 9:38 am


  1. Pingback: Burned by Love? Chat with “The Gargoyle” author, Andrew Davidson « The Raabe Review - 4 August, 2008

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  3. Pingback: Adams Press BookBlog » Bad days for big publishers. Good times for small presses. - 12 December, 2008

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