Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reader's Diary #912- Andrew Davidson: The Gargoyle

I'll get this out of the way right now. I love Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle. I'm in the midst of ranking all the fiction I've read this year here's a sneak peak: the Gargoyle took the #2 spot. (You'll just have to keep checking in the next few weeks back to see who took the coveted top spot.)

I was first introduced to the Gargoyle through my Canadian Book Challenge. Back in the 2nd edition of the Challenge, it was the number one book that participants chose to read. Why? It didn't win any major awards. It was Andrew Davidson's first novel. Where did all the hype come from? I still don't know. Good reviews? Was it a Heather's Pick?

Anyway, as I said above, I love the book. So much so, I didn't really know where to begin with a review. So, I looked through some of the reviews all those Challenge participants wrote before me. And I was surprised by what I found. While most enjoyed the book, they had quite different takes than I. Many commented that they didn't really enjoy the beginning, saying that it only got good towards the middle.
For the uninitiated, The Gargoyle is about a man who finds himself in a hospital burn unit after a horrific car accident. He is scarred permanently and beyond all recognition. His only goal is to get out so that he can commit suicide. Before he accomplishes this goal however, he is visited by a woman named Marianne Engel who has wandered into his room from the psych ward. She claims that they are lovers from way back. Centuries back, in fact.

It is towards the middle of this tale that Marianne begins telling the burn victim stories. Not only stories from their supposed past, but stories of love and loss from medieval Japan, Spain, Italy, and Iceland. It seems that many readers love these stories. I didn't hate them, but they're the only reason The Gargoyle didn't claim my number one spot. At times, I felt too impatient to get back to Marianne's personal stories. At others I didn't think them all that necessary to the overall book. It felt like Davidson put in every topic that personally interested him, even if they didn't always help the story along. The beginning, however, was bold and exciting. But as I say, I seem to be alone in this assessment. I'm reminded of Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air; most readers' favourite part is the canoe trip, whereas I find that part to be the dullest.

Marianne's characters is one of the most engaging characters I've come across in some time. Have you ever watched a movie when people seem too quick to believe in the supernatural? Within minutes they believe that it really is Santa Claus and are willing to hop into his sleigh. In The Gargoyle, the narrator (i.e., the burn victim) is more believable than that. He never quite lets go of the fact that Marianne was a psych patient and the logical explanation that she is schizophrenic. Yet, such is Davidson's writing that, in this case, I believed Marianne's story. I wanted to. I would have climbed into her sleigh in a second.*

Andrew Davidson's writing is exactly the way I would hope to write if I ever decided to write a novel. It's brave and risky as hell. CanLit can sometimes be slow, subtle, and ironic. Davidson rushes into topics as grand as true love, hell, and sex, like a bull in a china shop. True, anyone can do that. But then he does the near impossible: he glues the pieces back together.

(*Note: the Gargoyle is not a Christmas book. There are no references to Santa. Or a sleigh. But 'tis the season for comparative Christmas examples.)


Nikki in Niagara said...

Wonderful review John! I too loved the book from the beginning. The burn patient part was fascinating. Still one of my all-time favourite books.

Unfortunately I DNF'd his second book, nothing like this at all!

Loni said...

The Gargoyle has been sitting, unread, on my shelf for... two years? I don't know why I haven't read it yet. Your review makes me want to read it asap!

raidergirl3 said...

Hey, we liked the same book! For all different reasons, but.
I just remember a lot of internet buzz about it, and then a friend at work, with whom I never like the same books, recommended it. I was a little worried, but then I did love it, and it made my top list of that year.
Nice Christmas references.

John Mutford said...

Nicola: I wasn't even aware of a 2nd book. I would have been nervous to read it, even without your non-recommendation!

Loni: When I went to read it I searched my bookshelves, thinking I, too, had a copy sitting there forever. Turns out I didn't so I ended up getting an electronic copy.

Raidergirl: Do we typically not like the same books?

Anonymous said...

Oh, nice review. Another one for The List.

ChristasBooks said...

Happy to see you enjoyed this one. I didn't particularly care for it but I did like Marianne's character. I thought she was really interesting to read about and well written!