I had heard lots of good things about The Gargoyle, and seen it on several people’s “Best of 2008” list, so was expecting great things. Perhaps I built my expectations up too much, as I was slightly disappointed.
The book follows the nameless narrator, as he recovers from severe burns after a car crash. His life is enriched when Marianne Engel, a mysterious sculptress of gargoyles, begins to visit him in the burns unit. Marianne claims to be a 700-year-old Medieval scribe, and she slowly reveals some of the events that she has witnessed over her long life.
I really enjoyed all the modern sections of the book. The thoughts of the burns victim were incredibly vivid, but were described in an almost comic way, so I was not disgusted by them:
Even when the skin did take, the absence of oil glands in the transplanted tissue resulted in extreme dryness. “Ants beneath the skin” is not only too cliched a description of how it felt, but also not graphic enough. Lumberjack termites brandishing little chainsaws, maybe; or a legion of fiddler crabs wearing hairshirts and fiberglass shoes; or a legion of baby rats dragging tiny barbed-wire plows. Tap-dancing, subepidermal cockroaches wearing soccer cleats and cowbuy spurs? Perhaps.
The book was very well researched, and I learnt a lot about the treatment of burns, schizophrenia and Medieval Germany. I also found Marianne’s character very interesting. I loved trying to work out whether or not she was schizophrenic, but I found that many of her tales seemed to drag on a bit. Although I realise their purpose in the story, I think that many of them could have been reduced in length, or removed completely. They interfered with the flow of the book, and made it overly long.
I enjoyed the ending of the book, it brought everything together, and rounded it all off nicely. Andrew Davidson is clearly a very skilled writer, and this is a great debut novel, but I think he tried to fit too many things into this book. I look forward to reading future books by him, as his imagination is wonderful!
Recommended for the vivid descriptions of life as a burns victim, and for re-enforcing the message that a person’s real beauty is underneath the skin, but be aware that fifty percent of the book is fairly average.
Also reviewed by Fresh Ink Books