* This is a review copy sent by the author and not a purchased copy. However, the opinion shared here is entirely my own and not been influenced in any way by the author.
When I got the chance to first get in touch with author Andrew Davidson, I was in doubt about the reviews his debut novel had generated. The book in question is ‘The Gargoyle’. A much talked-about book that garnered different reactions all over the globe. While some have heralded the novel as a masterpiece, some have gone to the extreme length of calling it the worst piece of writing for that particular year. For some reason, when I checked out the background on the book online, I was not sure whether I would want to read it. For starters, it was a fiction-fantasy rolled into one, a genre I have never read before. So when I interacted with Andrew Davidson, I found his points pretty interesting, and after a few mails here and there, he promised to send me a copy of his book to give me a chance to venture into this new territory.
I must say I was impressed when I first took the book in my hands a few weeks later. I have a major eye for cover, if the cover of a book is impressive, I will pick it up and try and give it some time. The Gargoyle’s charm begins right from the cover itself. It gives you a look at a female’s bare back, except for a huge tattoo of leaves that cover almost the entire back. In the middle of this tattoo is a red burning heart. The female is holding up her hair, and on her neck is a cross, much like a Gothic symbol. The stage is set, I knew I had to begin reading the book immediately.
Before I share my review, here’s a look at the opening paragraphs in The Gargoyle:
‘Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love.
It was a Good Friday and the stare were just starting to dissolve into the dawn. As I drove, I stroked the scar on my chest, by habit. My eyes were heavy and my vision unfocused, not surprising given that I’d spent the night hunched over a mirror snorting away the bars of white powder that kept my face trapped in the glass. I believed I was keening my reflexes. I was wrong.
To one side of the curving road was a sharp drop down the mountain’s slope, and on the other was a dark wood. I tried to keep my eyes fixed ahead but I had the overwhelming feeling that something was waiting to ambush me from behind the trees, perhaps a troop of mercenaries. That’s how drug paranoia works, of course. My heart hammered as I gripped the steering wheel more tightly, sweat collecting at the base of my neck.’
If the first two paragraphs are anything to go by, you have an author here who knows exactly what he is talking about, who has that ‘gift’ of story-telling where you can simply read the lines and ‘see’ the entire book story playing in front of your eyes. That is exactly what The Gargoyle is about.
Our hero is a nameless porn star and an addict. The story opens as he is driving back after a night of getting ‘high’. In this state of being, he has a vision of flaming arrows lunging at him through the woods, and even as he tries to avoid them, he ends up driving his car over the cliff and bursting over the flames. As you read the next few lines, you will know that the author has been most thorough in his research about burn and burn victims, as well as the treatments and condition that follow.
Check this out:
‘I imagine dear reader that you’ve had some experience with heat….I want you to imagine something new. Imagine turning on one of the elements of your stove – the electric kind with black coils on top. Maybe some tiny tendrils of smoke curl up from a previous spill on the burner. A slight violet tinge will appear, nestled there in the black rings….it moves towards orange and finally – finally! – an intense glowing red. Now, lower your head so that your eyes are even with the top of the stove and you can peer through the shimmering waves rising up. Now, slam your sensitive hand directly onto that glowing element.
And hold it there. Let the heat engrave the skin, the muscles, the tendons, let it smolder down to the bone.
….I have another task for you: lean down, turn your head to one side and slap your cheek on the same element. The convenient thing is that your ear is right there to capture the snap, crackle and pop of your flesh.
Now you might have some idea of what it was like for me to be pinned inside that car, unable to escape the flames, conscious enough to catalogue the experience until I went into shock…….’
By the time I reached the end of these lines, I was mesmerized enough to know that this was going to be an unputdownable book. As the hero enters the burn ward having suffered burns of the extreme degree, his narrative moves from present to past, and we get a glimpse of his abused childhood and the subsequent handsome and fun life he was living before being reduced to a gooey blob of burnt flesh. His narrative gives a detailed look into the man he was before, and the reader will have a fair opportunity of creating the hero’s character in your mind. He tells you he has been a soulless creature, one who lived for the gratification of the flesh, and that he has never worried about consequences if he is getting any pleasure out of it. He prides himself for being able to get any woman in bed – artist, porn star, housewife, teacher, doctor, pilot – you name it and he will ‘do’ ‘it’. He does not try to make himself look good, he tells you he has been without a soul till now. And when he tells the reader about his loss of manhood in the accident (he loses his penis in the fire), it is not to garner your sympathy, but merely as an irony to life earlier and now.
Andrew Davidson’s narrative extends to the miniscule details of the burn ward and its treatment of its patients. As you read the descriptions, you can’t but help wonder how much research the author has done to write what he does. Andrew tells us that he spent seven years doing research on this book, and you will not be surprised, given the detailing he has to share.
This debut author manages to hold your interest even in a burn ward. As an author, his strength lies in tapping the curiosity and interest factor of the reader, and he knows very well the fascination we all have with the unknown. How many of us have ever wondered what happens to burn victims after they are admitted? We know they are in unbearable pain, but once they are under medical care, we assume all is going to be well. And it will be. But what happens in between? Here is where Andrew steps in with his detailed accounts of the procedures that follow. You may think it is gory, but I will give you the assurance that it isn’t, of course if you are by nature queasy, then this will not suit your taste. But for those who yearn to know more and go behind the scenes, you really need to give it a read.
Between all these treatments, he receives a visitor - a beautiful crazy woman name Marianne Engel. Though the hero does not know who she is, she claims to have known him for ages, she claims to have known him from his past, this life and all the previous ones he had. She tells him they were lovers before, as far back as the 14th century in Germany when she was a nun and he was a soldier. In this life she is a sculptor who carves gargoyles for wealthy clients and celebrities. The staff tells him that she is a psychiatric patient with signs of schizophrenia. But patient or not, Marianne is always found to be by the hero’s side, so much so, that the hospital staff begins to treat her as one of their own and ignore her intrusions. While he has no one else to visit him, Marianne remains the one constant in his life. She tells him stories from different parts of the world from different times, and in all her stories, love triumphs over death. She tells him this is not the first time he has been burnt, she tells him he has burnt in his previous incarnations as well, and that she has always been with him, just as she is with him right now.
What I found most amazing about Andrew Davidson’s novel is the sheer imagination and scope of storytelling. We often make up stories from everyday life, about things we know and see, but how often do you find a voice that will take you to a completely different world altogether? A world that you know cannot be real and possible, yet, the more you get to know it, the more you begin to believe it. Such is the power of his writing, that Andrew Davidson will manage to convince you that yes, something like this can actually be possible and not just fantasy. Not only is it a journey in character building, plot, narrative, time-swap and fantasy-turning-to-real, it is also one of the most intense love stories that I have recently read.
Yes, if someone was to ask me earlier if I would be reading a genre like this, I would probably say ‘no’, but now that I have read The Gargoyle, I know I will definitely try out something like this again. More so, I will wait with excitement for the next book that Andrew Davidson is currently working on. And yes, as much as I thought I would never enjoy a fantasy novel, I must admit that this has been one of the most unputdownable books I have ever read, and lapped up every page as fast as I could. And much after the story is over, you will still be thinking about the two lovers.
Details about the book:
Title: The Gargoyle
Author: Andrew Davidson
Publishers: Random House
No. of Pages: 465
Grab your own copy here:
Verdict: Must Read
- Debolina Raja Gupta