So I will be honest – I heard about The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson’s first (and so far) only book which was released in 2008 to much hype and a crushing sense of a flop when all the hype didn’t translate into US sales. Bibliodaze has spoken about this high advance, low sales at length before, both on the blog (find it here) and on Twitter (oh, hey, follow me at @bookbrats). When I asked people for suggestions on heavily hyped books with huge advances that failed to sell at the bookstore, the number one suggestion I heard was The Gargoyle.
Of course I had to read it.
You know what? This book really deserved a lot more than it got, because it is one of the strangest, most engrossing books I’ve read in the recent past. Even a few weeks after finishing it, this book has kind of stuck with me because of the subject matter and the questions about that ending. THAT ENDING.
The Gargoyle is the story of a nameless narrator who is a former porn star turned horrible burn victim who meets an unhinged escapee from the psychiatric ward while recovering in the hospital. When I went into this one, I was expecting a fantasy romance, but this book is much closer to a psychological romance examining the will to live, the will to love, and the will to hang on. Oh, and the borders between reality and fantasy, which this story blurs expertly. Everything about this novel is darkly romantic, following our narrator on the edge of suicide as he is visited by this woman who, while labeled as mentally disturbed, manages to bring the narrator back from the brink and teaches him how to live and love once more.
But where this novel excels is in the way it manages to weave in other stories of heartbreak and death to add to the romance. I know, I know, sounds weird, right? That’s where the appeal of this novel was to me. Even when at times it seemed to drag along, the story always managed to come back to the heart of the story. Even in the darkness of this book, Davidson is an expert at bringing us back to the point, which is the tale between our narrator and Marianne Engel, the woman who found him and nursed him back to health while herself falling further and further towards the edge of sanity. By the end, as we pivot between a second person story from the middle ages to stories of Vikings and Japan and other stories with interconnected themes, the story continues to play at the edge of reality and fantasy where it exists in our own world. And my goodness, that is what made this book. This is why I wholeheartedly recommend this to others.
At the same time, though, this book was weird. And ambitious. And at times tedious. But it is so worth it to trudge through the strangeness and keep your grasp on the heart of this tale – the story of a woman and a burn patient that might be connected by more than this life. It makes you think and makes you hold onto every word breathlessly by the end. Maybe that’s why this book wasn’t a success – it was very demanding for the average reader, but at the same time so accessible. It came out almost seven years ago now, but maybe you should pick up a copy and find out what you were missing in 2008.
VERDICT: Well, yeah, this book was probably a financial flop, but this ambitious tale of romance on the borders of literary fiction, psychological thriller, and fantasy is engrossing, compelling, and a really good read.